How many times do you hear people say they are anxious, claustrophobic, can’t deal with crowds, are deathly afraid of birds (okay, that might be a rare one), are insomniacs, or can’t handle stress. Well, fair enough, these are all part of the human experience actually.
So why are we so quick to label it as abnormal or disordered or make flippant remarks like, “I am so OCD!” Anxiety disorders are real and to be taken seriously but not all experiences of anxiety, stress or worry are evidence of a diagnosable illness. How can you tell which is which?
Anxiety disorders are characterised by an excessive, unwarranted fear that usually leads to extreme avoidance behaviours and other harmful coping methods and have a significant and debilitating impact on your daily life, work and/or relationships. If you experience anxiety too intensely, frequently, for too long or in response to non-threatening situations, you may have a disorder.
Anxiety is a naturally occurring response to perceived threats in our environment. Basically, it keeps us safe. If you feel anxious sometimes in response to things that make you feel nervous, uncomfortable or unsafe, then it’s working and it’s something to be thankful for, not something to try to get rid of.
So, if you are shy, that doesn’t mean you have social phobia. If you are tidy, that doesn’t mean you have OCD. If you feel stressed, that doesn’t mean you have an anxiety disorder.
But you could have a far more worrisome problem: the inability or unwillingness to tolerate any level of distress or discomfort. This has led to what the Australian Medical Association is calling a ‘national emergency’—prescription drug addiction.
Why medication isn't always the answer
Anti-anxiety medications, a class of drugs called benzodiazapines, are highly addictive and are responsible for more lethal overdoses than illicit drugs. In fact, Valium (Diazapam) contributed to more overdose deaths last year in Victoria than heroin.
So the next time you think, “I’ll just pop a Xanax” when you’re feeling stressed, you might want to find alternative ways to cope like: do a short mindfulness exercise, listen to your favourite song, talk to a friend, relax with a book, or just accept that you are feeling stressed and anxious and learn to just sit with it until it passes.
And remember, if you do have an anxiety disorder, psychological treatment is far more effective in the long-term than prescription medication.
Anxiety isn’t the new accessory.
It’s always been there, it’s a necessity, and it’s here to stay.