The Harm of Misusing ‘Anxiety’ Without Having It

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of people casually using the term “anxiety” to describe everyday stress and worry. While it’s true that anxiety is a common experience that affects many people, the misuse of this term can have negative consequences. When individuals misuse the term “anxiety” without actually having it, it undermines the experiences of those who genuinely suffer from anxiety disorders.

In this article, we’ll explore the dangers of using the term “anxiety” inaccurately and discuss why it’s important to use language responsibly. We’ll explore the key differences between everyday stress and anxiety disorders, delving into the common symptoms of anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, avoidance behavior, and social anxiety.

Furthermore, we’ll discuss how the misuse of the term “anxiety” can perpetuate misunderstandings and stigmas surrounding mental health, which can prevent people from seeking help when they truly need it. We’ll also provide some practical tips for improving mental health awareness and reducing the misuse of the term “anxiety.”

By the end of this article, readers will have a better understanding of the dangers of misusing the term “anxiety” and the importance of using language appropriately to promote greater mental health awareness and understanding.

1. The impact of anxiety on the brain differs from that of nervousness.

The hormones adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol are commonly known as stress hormones, and they all contribute to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for feelings of anxiety, stress, energy, or excitement. However, it’s crucial to recognize that how your body processes these emotions determines the difference between mild nervousness and sheer panic.

The amygdala, a part of the brain that influences emotional processing, is responsible for triggering anxiety. When anxiety strikes, your neurotransmitters alert the sympathetic nervous system hormones that you’re feeling agitated, scared, or anxious. This physical reaction is known as the fight-or-flight response, where the brain redirects blood flow from the internal organs, resulting in dizziness, light-headedness, and a sense of being overwhelmed.

Understanding the role of stress hormones in anxiety and the fight-or-flight response is crucial to managing anxiety effectively. By recognizing the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety and understanding how the body responds, you can take steps to reduce the impact of anxiety on your life. In this article, we will delve deeper into the science behind anxiety and provide practical tips for coping with it.

2. Anxiety isn’t a temporary emotion or reaction.

Whether you’re about to go on a job interview, dealing with a health scare, or experiencing a breakup, it’s healthy and normal to feel anxious. (Hey, Plenty of People Experienced It During the Election.) After all, the anxiety definition is the body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations and it helps you stay alert and aware. But for some people, the nerves, stress, and worry are frequent and forceful, taking over their lives. You may assume anxiety is always fleeting-“It will pass,” you tell your friend-which may be why you casually use it to describe any kind of temporary and situational nervousness or stress. But for people like myself suffering from an anxiety disorder, it’s not something that can just be shaken off. Being anxious about your in-laws coming to town is not the same thing as having a diagnosed anxiety disorder. That kind of anxiety is not a temporary emotion. It’s a daily struggle.

3. Anxiety is recognized as a mental health disorder.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. In fact, roughly 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from some anxiety-related disorder, but only one-third seek treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. If you’ve thought back to times when you were able to deal with and move past anxiety, it may be easy to think that anyone with an anxiety disorder is simply not trying hard enough-they’re just a “nervous wrecks” who need to “chill out.” (After all, going for a jog around the block always works for you, right?) Being confused about the difference between garden-variety stress and a true mental disorder, but using the same words to describe both, results in some pretty unfair judgment and stigmatization.

4. Anxiety can have serious physical side effects.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder (sometimes called “social phobia”). Other mental health issues, such as depression, can commonly occur alongside anxiety disorders, as well. Those affected can have trouble sleeping, concentrating, or even leaving their house. It can feel irrational, overwhelming, and completely disproportionate to the situation even to the person experiencing it. Not to mention, these feelings of sadness, anxiousness, panic, or fear can sometimes come out of nowhere with no direct cause or situation.

After a panic attack, I’ll have a sore chest for days as a result of the ongoing muscle contractions, but other physical symptoms like trembling, headaches, and nausea can also occur. Diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and bloating, or even the development of irritable bowel syndrome, can happen as a result of the constant fight-or-flight response and the stress that puts on your digestive system. Chronic anxiety can even lead to kidney and blood vessel damage due to irregular spikes in blood sugar.

5. Anxiety is often a family struggle.

Being nervous about a situation isn’t genetic, but an anxiety disorder can be. Researchers have found that anxiety disorders run in families and have a biological basis similar to allergies or diabetes. This was the case for me: My mother and her mother suffer from anxiety disorders, as does my sister. This genetic predisposition can surface at a young age, too-certain anxiety traits linked with panic disorders are apparent in kids as young as 8 years old, according to a study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

The Takeaway

There are a number of misconceptions about mental illness, and using terms like “depressed,” “panic attack,” and “anxiety” too loosely doesn’t help. It makes it harder for people to really understand what it’s like to live with mental illness. But people need to know that anxiety is nothing like passing, situational nervousness. Being sensitive to the possibility that anyone may be struggling with a mental health issue, and choosing your words carefully, can help prevent people with mental health issues from feeling misunderstood and stigmatized.


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