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By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Last updated: 25 Nov 2018 ~ 4 min read

For something so common, anxiety is still massively misunderstood. There are myths and misconceptions about everything from what anxiety disorders look and feel like to what actually helps to treat these illnesses and navigate anxiety. Which is why we asked several anxiety experts to clear things up. Below, you’ll find their illuminating insights.

Living with an anxiety disorder can be exceptionally difficult.

Many people minimize and trivialize anxiety disorders. For instance, how often have you said or heard someone say “I’m sooo OCD about my desk!” or “I’m really OCD about using hand sanitizer”?

Such comments not only misconstrue OCD (cleanliness is just one way that OCD manifests), but they also leave sufferers feeling misunderstood and alone, said Janina Scarlet, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Superhero Therapy: Mindfulness Skills to Help Teens and Young Adults Deal with Anxiety, Depression and Trauma.

OCD—and other anxiety disorders—can be debilitating and devastating illnesses.

“Individuals with OCD suffer on a daily basis, some completing hours of rituals, while others are paralyzed by intrusive thoughts,” said Scarlet. People with other anxiety disorders also experience “a tremendous amount of distress” day to day. For some of Scarlet’s clients, it can take hours to get out of bed, while others are unable to leave the house (or another space “they deem to be safe”).

“Someone with illness anxiety disorder may [believe] they have a life-threatening illness…. [People with] GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), or OCD may have recurrent intrusive thoughts about their biggest fears coming true. It is similar to experiencing one’s worst nightmare on loop in someone’s mind.”

Some people with social anxiety are so afraid of rejection or humiliation that making eye contact, waiting in line or saying “hello” triggers overwhelming anxiety or panic attacks, she said.

And what makes all of this worse is criticism from others, and comments like “just try to get over it,” Scarlet added.

Anxiety can be successfully treated in a timely fashion.

Even though anxiety disorders are difficult, they’re one of the most treatable disorders. Yet only a third of people seek treatment, said Kevin Chapman, Ph.D, a psychologist who specializes in evidence-based treatment for anxiety and related disorders in adults and adolescents at his private practice in Louisville, K.Y. That’s because “Most individuals with anxiety disorders manage their anxiety through avoidance behaviors.”

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