Rich Silvestri

The Truth About Anxiety Disorders

There are many stories—some true, others not so true—about phobias, panic attacks, and other anxiety disorders. The Internet is one of the popular media used to disperse these ideas. When you are affected by chronic anxiety, resist the urge to try any and everything. Find the truth! Look with us as we examine some common beliefs and statements about anxiety.

Myth: Avoid stress and stressful situations at all costs.

Being anxious is a normal part of life. Avoiding stressful situations can actually fuel your anxiety. You are in essence teaching yourself that you cannot handle the situation and that the situation is something to be feared. Anxiety need not prevent you from doing whatever you need to do.

Myth: Anxiety disorders usually have their root cause in childhood. In order for therapy to be effective it must address that period of your life.

Anxiety may be caused by heredity and/or personal experiences. These experiences may be very recent. Effective treatment is more about teaching new skills to manage behavior, discomfort, emotions, and thoughts.

Myth: The only effective treatment for anxiety disorders is medication.

Medication can be beneficial; however, scientific research has shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be as effective as or even more so than medication for most people, especially in the long run. CBT may also be coupled with medication.

Myth: Some people’s anxiety problems just cannot be controlled.

Therapy and/or medication are effective treatments for anxiety. Therapy can help you to reduce worry and learn how to manage and control your own thoughts, no matter your temperament or how long you have been afflicted by dysfunctional habits.

Myth: Eating right, exercising, avoiding caffeine, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will rid you of anxiety.

A healthy lifestyle can minimize anxiety and make your body better able to deal with stress. Your anxious moments may decrease in frequency or intensity, but chronic anxiety will likely not be cured. Anxiety disorders are stress-sensitive, but stress is not the root cause.

To successfully deal with any mental issue, more is required than just stress reduction. Among the things you may need to do is change how you behave, feel, and think, with respect to yourself and others, learn how to effectively tolerate stressful experiences, and understand your symptoms.

Myth: Snap a rubber band around your wrist when you are beset by bad or disturbing thoughts.

This is can be a good way to clear your head—but only for the moment. In fact, suppressing thoughts only makes them return more often and with greater intensity. You have to find ways of dealing with the thoughts and they will go away for good.

Myth: You run the risk of passing out or losing control if a panic attack is very intense.

It is highly unlikely that you will faint. Fainting is the result of a sudden drop in blood pressure. A panic attack raises your blood pressure. Imagining loss of control does not mean you will lose control. You are still in control during a panic attack, even though it may not feel like it. Thoughts are not actions and thinking a thought does not make it more likely to occur.

Myth: Always have a paper bag handy in the event of hyperventilation.

Paper bags are reminders that may cause anxiety about being anxious. Hyperventilation isn’t dangerous, although it can be quite uncomfortable.

When doing Internet research on any mental health issues find credible information by:

1) Visiting ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) Resources

2) Looking for credentials. This may include academic degrees, association memberships, professional and state licenses, and other proof of experience for the author(s) of the website. “Leading experts” or fellow panic sufferers might not recommend the treatment that is in your best interest.

3) Beware of extravagant claims. Just because something says “scientifically proven” doesn’t mean that’s true. Be careful of instant cures, “all natural” or unique methods, revolutionary formulas, or products “exclusively available from this website.”

4) Valuable insight may come from peers, but a mental health professional should vet any suggestions you receive. Although this information may seem helpful, it can also impede your recovery.