There are many misconceptions about mental health disorders, but one of the most common is the incorrect idea that anxiety is just nervousness. Bustle explains six ways having anxiety is acutely different than feeling nervous.
Licensed psychotherapist and author Jodi Aman spoke with Bustle about anxiety and the various misunderstandings surrounding the disorder and the people who live with it.
Below are six common misconceptions about anxiety according to Aman.
- Nervousness Goes Away When the Stressor Disappears – Anxiety Doesn’t
Experiencing nervousness, stress, and worry is a natural facet of life. At some point, everyone is exposed to something that elicits those feelings, such as a work project or a fight with a loved one. Usually, once the stressful event or trigger disappears, so do the negative feelings.
People with anxiety, on the other hand, do not stop experiencing those emotions. Instead, anxiety is continuous and often can come out of nowhere. This makes it impossible to anticipate and difficult to control.
- Anxiety Has Noticeable Physical Side Effects
Symptoms of anxiety are varying in effect and severity, but commonly include headaches, dizziness, shortness in breath, and nausea. Nervousness does not ellict these acute physical side effects.
- Anxiety Has Different Neurological Functions Than Nervousness Does
Just as the body responds differently to nervousness or anxiety, so does the brain. Although both states produce the same hormones, the brain and body processes them differently.
Anxiety spurs the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that ignites the flight or flight instinct. This causes blood to rush to the brain, muscles to tense, heart rate to increase, and breathing to shorten.
Nervousness does not create the same experience. You may sweat more and your heart may skip a beat, but you aren’t in touch with your primal instincts to survive.
- Anxiety is a Mental Illness That Runs in Families
Nervousness is situational, while anxiety can be genetic. Mental disorders can run in the family, and anxiety is no exception. If you have anxiety, it’s likely that someone else in your family does too.
- An Array of Physical Health Problems Can Arise From an Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety can increase your risk for serious illnesses such as heart attack, stroke, kidney and blood vessel damage, or irritable bowel syndrome.
Treating anxiety helps decrease the risk of developing these serious health concerns. If you are experiencing anxiety, go see a professional to help prevent the disorder from having lasting, harmful effects on your health.
- Anxious Feelings Can’t be Willed Away or Controlled
Sometimes when we’re in a stressful situation, we find ways that lessen our personal stress. For instance, walking away from your desk if you’re stressed as work or using a stress ball. People with anxiety often do not feel better simply by removing themselves from the situation.