Therapy Note: Anxiety

Too often, myths and misconceptions about mental health services prevent people from seeking support.  My goal is to provide a space where these myths and misconceptions may be examined.  The blogs titled “Therapy Note” dispel or provide clarification to some of the more common myths for the population/topic listed in the title of the note. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19.1% of adults in America have experienced an anxiety disorder. [1]  There are several types of clinical diagnoses of anxiety disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phobias and Social Anxiety Disorder.  When people typically speak about clinical levels of anxiety, they are referring to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 

Here is a partial list of symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:  

A.   Excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least 6 months about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance.)

B.    The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.

C.    The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms being present for more days than not for the past 6 months)

1.     Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge.

2.     Being easily fatigued.

3.     Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.

4.     Irritability.

5.     Muscle tension.

6.     Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless, unsatisfying sleep).

D.   The anxiety, worry or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. [2]

Myth 1:  People with anxiety need to “just calm down”
Reality:  Although a person may experience moments of feeling anxious and worrying.  Others experience these feelings in a clinically significant way meaning they are not a temporary response. The person cannot “just calm down” or “not be anxious.” 

Myth 2:  If you experience anxiety you will have a panic attack. 
Reality: Not everyone who experiences anxiety will experience a panic attack.  Panic attacks typically occur in a separate type of anxiety diagnosis, Panic Disorder.  People may feel anxious at the onset of a panic attack which leads to the physical reaction but it is possible to experience anxiety without a panic attack. 

Myth 3: Taking medication for anxiety means you are weak.
Reality: There are no “weak” ways of addressing anxiety.  The physical component of anxiety is something that cannot be reached through talk therapy alone.  A physical component needs intervention on a physical level.  Medications are designed to intervene on the physical level.  If medication is necessary, taking medication means that the person is addressing the physical (brain chemistry) aspect of anxiety.  



[2]Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing