Anxiety— a buzz word that we see in a myriad of different contexts. We see it mentioned not only in a clinical space, but in memes, social gatherings, personality quizzes, and facebook posts. It’s become so mainstream that Anxiety Disorders are trivialized and misunderstood.
But what is anxiety?
An Anxiety Disorder is characterized by feelings of fear or worry that are so intense that they interfere with normal functioning and the completion of daily activities. It is not simply the worry that naturally comes along with a risky or difficult task that harbors an unknown outcome. It varies in intensity and manifestation, but it is not short-lived or project-centered.
In fact, there are several different types of Anxiety Disorders, the most common of which are: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Again, they vary in intensity and how they present themselves. Many of them are also buzzwords that have been so overused that they have lost much of their meaning and are plagued by common misconceptions.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:
MYTH: People who suffer from OCD always have compulsions related to cleanliness, and enjoy a space that is overly immaculate.
FACT: Only a portion of people with OCD struggle with compulsions toward cleanliness. Others who suffer from this disorder often have compulsions due to fears of committing sins, death of loved ones, certain numbers, colors or words, and harming themselves or others.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
MYTH: People are diagnosed with PTSD solely because of traumatic experiences, and tend to be very dangerous.
FACT: Though traumatic experiences commonly lead to PTSD, it can also develop because of acute stress and depression that is unresolved for years. Aside from this, psychosis and aggression are not absolute symptoms of PTSD. In fact, according to Psychology Today, less that 8 percent of people with PTSD commit violent acts.
MYTH: Panic attacks are just overreactions to stressful situations and anxiety.
FACT: People with Panic Disorder have attacks that come without warning or environmental trigger. While they are sometimes manageable, they cannot be controlled or actively avoided.
The bottom line: It is extremely important to remember that mental illnesses are not words that can be thrown around casually. People who suffer from these disorders experience crushing feelings of helplessness or worry, and while this can be managed, it is not a character flaw or something to be taken lightly.