I’ve noticed a new fad recently, and this is a fad that I truly don’t understand. It’s more baffling to me than the weirdest fashion mania or reality show craze. It’s the anxiety fad.
I am totally in favor of taking away the stigma around anxiety and other mental health disorders. I want people to be able to share their experiences, and for others to be sympathetic and understanding. It’s awful if you feel alone in what you experience and have nobody to talk to.
It seems like everybody and their mother is clamoring to get in on this anxiety fad. Everyone wants anxiety. Everyone wants to tell each other how bad they have it. Everyone wants the Xanax prescription. Licensed healthcare professionals are giving out the diagnosis like candy, and it seems like everyone I know is being prescribed very strong, highly addictive medication. To be honest, it’s scaring me.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but guess what: if you experience anxiety, congratulations. You’re a human being. You’re just like everybody else. Anxiety itself is a regular human emotion. Everybody has it. Isn’t that a comfort? And, just because you feel anxiety, even if it’s on a regular basis, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a disorder.
I know many people think they have a disorder, and most of those people pride themselves on it. It’s this strange pride that makes me think that they don’t actually have a disorder. I don’t doubt that they feel anxious; however, the feeling of anxiety does not constitute having a disorder.
Why do I not believe them?
Because the people with true anxiety disorders are suffering so much that they’re spending all of their energy trying not to be anxious. They hate it; they live in a very specific kind of hell, and it is not a fashion statement for them.
Many people trivialize the suffering that people with anxiety, panic and other mental health disorders go through by talking about it so casually. I’m not a mental health professional, but I’ve spoken to quite a few in my life, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned.
From what I’ve surmised, an anxiety disorder is attributed to two main factors: the limitations people will put on themselves (otherwise known as avoidance behaviors), and whether or not the person is choosing their anxieties over their values. (Obviously there are other factors that go into diagnosing a disorder, but those two seem to be the major umbrella factors.) They do these things because the anxiety they feel is so intense that they are too scared of feeling it that they do everything they can to not feel it.
Let’s just use an example that a person gets anxious about the Indiana Jones movies. (Maybe the movies remind them of a difficult time in their life.) They will do everything they can to avoid the movies, including leaving a room if the movie is playing, refusing to say the names of the movies, or even avoid looking at the logo, because they are so fearful of the anxiety that they might feel. It’s the fear of the fear; the worry of the worry.
Anxiety Over Values
Imagine that a person loves animals, but driving long distances makes them nervous. An animal shelter needs help, but the person would have to drive an hour to get there. A person with a disorder would choose to stay home instead of help the animals because they’re too afraid of their anxiety, despite their passion to help animals. A person without a disorder would still go, in spite of their nervousness about driving, because they feel that they can choose their values over their anxiety.
People with anxiety disorders also tend to live within a very short range of highs and lows. The average person’s emotions tend to go up and down like this:
While a person with anxiety tends to operate within a very short range in the lows like this:
They cannot escape the bad feelings. Always anxious, nervous, worrying. And people with disorders are always trying to hide it, because they don’t want everyone else to think that they’re crazy.
So, the next time you talk about how bad your anxiety is, I urge you to take a moment to choose your words more carefully.
The same goes for other disorders. Just because you feel sad doesn’t mean you’re depressed. Just because your friend is moody doesn’t mean she’s bipolar. Just because this guy you know did something mean doesn’t mean that he’s a psychopath.
I guess, all I want is for people to think before they talk, especially concerning something as truly severe and torturous as these mental health problems. They are not trivial matters. And we can help everyone with a disorder by educating ourselves about them and showing empathy.