• Aliza Septimus, PsyD

Why People Misunderstand Anxiety


Did you ever play the game called "telephone" growing up? One kid whispered a secret message into the ear of the kid next to him. That kid then whispered the "same" message into the ear of the kid next to her. On and on each kid would whisper the message around the circle until you came to the last kid, who would then announce the secret message aloud. Often the final message sounded nothing like the original message. That's because every person has their own way of hearing and sharing information. Sometimes it's accurate - sometimes it's not.


In this way, you could say that language is a necessary evil. Without it we would not be able to share ideas and information with each other. But when each person has their own language filters, information can become skewed.


Personal information and language filters can make discussing and understanding anxiety disorders difficult. While we all experience anxious moments from time to time, 18% of adults in the United States are actually affected by a form of anxiety disorder.


How many times have you heard a friend or a coworker say something like, "I was totally having a panic attack yesterday when you didn't show up!"? They weren't actually having a panic attack, they were merely concerned you were late.


When everyone assumes they have an issue with anxiety, they believe they have first-hand experience of the disorder and therefor know what it is. But using certain language that may or may not be accurate to convey a common feeling (ie - being nervous before a job interview) is not the same thing as truly knowing something.


Panic Disorder VS Social Anxiety


There are two main types of anxiety disorders and for this discussion it's important to make the distinction between each:


Panice Disorder:

People who suffer from panic disorder believe very strongly that the "pain attacks" they experience mean something is physically very wrong with them. For instance, many sufferers believe they are having a heart attack. Some may believe the dizziness and shortness of breath is a result of some serious undiagnosed illness such as a brain tumor.



Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

People with social anxiety disorder experience anxiety when faced with social situations. They do no believe their anxiety is related to an illness or disease, yet have little control over their fear of social interactions. Their anxiety becomes debilitating when the person feels they may be singled out, embarrassed, or ridiculed.




People who suffer from social anxiety disorder will do anything to alleviate their fear. This means decreasing the amount of social interactions they have on a daily basis as much as possible. This disorder negatively impacts the person's ability to emotionally connect with others, and holds them back in their career and academic life.


Because of language discrepancies, those who don't have an anxiety disorder sometimes believe they do, while those that do may assume they don't.


The main point to get across here is this:


It is normal to feel anxious, fearfu,l and worried from time to time. But feeling anxiety on a daily basis, to the point where you are concerned for you physical health or are compromising your career and personal relationships is not normal.


No one should have to live with a debilitating anxiety disorder. The good news is, anxiety disorders are treatable! I have helped many to uncover the root cause of their fear and provide tools and strategies to cope. If you or loved one is suffering from anxiety, know that there are treatments that are extremely effective. There is hope!




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