Many individuals with anxiety disorder whether they have a generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder do not seek help because they feel their anxiety transforms them into a well-prepared worrywart rather than an individual battling a mental health condition. In other words, many individuals choose to live with their anxiety disorder however your anxiety disorder will eventually keep you from having the fulfilling life you want, a dynamic career, strong friendships, and a satisfying intimate relationship. Coping with anxiety can be challenging but learning and understanding the following facts can help you make the best decisions about your care.

Myth: Anxiety is not a “real illness”

Fact: Anxiety disorders are a serious mental health disorder

Mental health disorders including anxiety disorders are often mistaken for “fake illnesses” because they cannot be physically seen, touched or diagnostically tested, however, mental illnesses can cause serious harm if left untreated and are in fact, real illnesses.

Myth: Individuals with anxiety should avoid stressful situations

Fact: Stressful situations are frequently unavoidable hence individuals should learn to manage their symptoms accordingly.

Avoiding stress might seem like an excellent way to reduce anxiety, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, or as effective. Life is full of stressful, unexpected situations, not all of which are necessarily going to cause anxiety for individuals with an anxiety disorder. Developing the habit of avoiding the things that you know cause anxiety such as crowds, open spaces, bridges, or spiders, reinforces the anxiety disorder which is not an effective way of coping with anxiety. Effective anxiety treatment usually involves gradually and safely exposing you to the source of your anxiety so that you can learn to cope with it, not avoid it. It is important to learn healthy coping skills to overcome your anxiety instead of avoiding situations where your anxiety can occur.

Myth: Anxiety disorders are not very common

Fact: Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders.

Approximately 18 percent of American adults, nearly one in five, experience some type of anxiety disorder in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). There are many more cases of undiagnosed anxiety, as many individuals do not seek help because of the stigma, limited access to care or the belief that they do not need any treatment.

Myth: Your anxiety will improve over time if you are just patient and wait

Fact: Anxiety needs to be treated by a mental health professional

The average person with an anxiety disorder waits approximately ten years to seek anxiety treatment. Those who are still able to work and function well enough often delay getting help, hoping the anxiety will get better on its own is also an ineffective way with coping with anxiety. The reality is that this rarely happens. Untreated anxiety can worsen or lead to co-occurring disorders such as depression.

Myth: Social anxiety is the same as being shy

Fact: Being shy is a personality trait whereas social anxiety is a disorder

Shyness and introversion are personality traits that are genetic and ingrained from early childhood. Individuals with these traits may have difficulty talking to people they do not know or value their own time away from others. Individuals who are shy and introverted do not experience the excessive, persistent anxiety and discomfort associated with social anxiety.

Shyness and introversion are personality traits that are inherited and are adopted during early childhood. Individuals with these traits may have difficulty talking to others they do not know or value their time away from others. However, they do not experience the excessive, persistent anxiety and discomfort associated with social anxiety. Social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme fear and embarrassment in social performance-based situations, to the extent that the individual avoids the situation at all costs or endures them with a high level of distress.

Myth: It is obvious when an individual has an anxiety disorder

Fact: It is often difficult to tell when an individual has a mental health disorder

Just because someone is nervous, shy or is running around in circles; does not necessarily mean they have an anxiety disorder and many individuals with anxiety disorders will often hide or mask their symptoms. Unlike physical illnesses, mental health disorders are difficult to see because the signs and symptoms are not shown outwardly, therefore, it is not obvious whether an individual has an anxiety disorder or any other type of mental health disorder.