The only thing more difficult than having an anxiety disorder may be the false information and stereotypes that seem to revolve around it. While some of these assumptions may come from a good place, ultimately making a generalization or aligning your beliefs about anxiety with a stereotype is harmful to everyone experiencing the disorder. Here are eight common stereotypes about anxiety disorders and why they can be hurtful.
1. Anxiety always stems from trauma
While anxiety can be a side effect of a traumatic event, many people experience anxiety without it having any connection to a past experience. The Mayo Clinic identifies 10 different anxiety disorders and links anxiety to at least 15 different health and risk factors, with trauma being only one of those.
Why it’s harmful: The belief that anxiety always stems from trauma feeds right into another belief that someone who has not experienced a traumatic event cannot experience anxiety. This is untrue and can make people feel like their “reason” for anxiety isn’t valid or real enough to seek help.
2. Everyone experiences the same triggers
Mental illnesses are extremely complicated and affect everyone differently. While there are some more common anxiety triggers, such as medications, caffeine, or health issues, virtually anything can trigger someone’s anxiety.
Why it’s harmful: Assuming that everyone experiences the same anxiety triggers removes the validity of someone experiencing a less common trigger. It can make someone feel like they are being overdramatic or that they should try to hide their symptoms.
3. All someone needs is peace and quiet to feel better
While getting away from noise can be calming for some (me included), not everyone feels that way. Some people might feel trapped in their mind when they are alone or would rather move around and stay busy. It all depends on the person and their feelings should be validated.
Why it’s harmful: Offering suggestions and trying to help is never a bad thing, but make sure to listen to the person who is actually experiencing anxiety. They know what is going to work for them the best.
4. Therapy and medicine will cure it
Therapy and medication can be awesome and effective treatments for an anxiety disorder but they are not a guarantee. Some people have health conditions that don’t allow them to take medication and others might have negative experiences associate with therapists that don’t leave room for any positive change. Some people try both therapy and medication and still experience anxiety every day.
Why it’s harmful: Assuming there is a universal cure for anxiety in the form of therapy or medication makes people who don’t or can’t choose those options feel like they’re being stupid or making the wrong decision for their health. There are many other options for anxiety treatment.
5. Someone with anxiety is weak and fragile
Anxiety does not mean someone is weak. It may seem like someone with anxiety avoids things because of that, but they are just someone trying to do their best with what they have. Battling anxiety requires a deep inner strength that must be turned to again and again, which is anything but weak.
Why it’s harmful: No one wants to feel like they’re weak or incapable of taking care of themselves. The best way to support someone is not to baby them but to show them you know how strong they really are.
6. People with anxiety are antisocial and shy
One common type of anxiety is a social anxiety disorder, which tends to be manifested at social events where there are a lot of people. While social anxiety and shyness can be linked, this is not always the case. Plenty of extroverts who love being around people have social anxiety. They just need a break sometimes (or often) to make sure their symptoms don’t completely take over.
Why it’s harmful: The term “antisocial” has a pretty negative connotation to it and can make someone feel like they’re being rude for avoiding people. The term “shy” tends to be used with children and can make someone with anxiety feel like a child for choosing to forgo social situations.
7. People can just get over their anxiety
“Just stop worrying so much,” is probably one of the most overused answers to someone experiencing anxiety. Someone with an anxiety disorder has a mental illness and is as incapable of making it disappear as someone with a broken arm is incapable of making it heal instantly. Believe me, people with anxiety wish more than anything that they could just make it go away.
Why it’s harmful: Assuming anxiety is a choice completely removes the validity of what someone is going through. It can make someone who is experiencing anxiety feel like they aren’t trying hard enough to fix it or that people think they are making it up, which can make it difficult to seek treatment.