19 Myths about Anxiety and Panic Attacks

anxiety disorders

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, with approximately one in five people suffering from it. Even though anxiety and panic disorders have become common, there are a lot of misconceptions and myths about them that have led to some stigmas. In this article, we will debunk these misconceptions and myths about anxiety and panic attack disorders.

1Anxiety is an Emotion, not a Disorder

While anxiety is an emotion that is triggered by stress, that does not mean that it is not also a disorder. When you have an anxiety disorder, it means that the anxious feelings and thoughts start to invade your daily life and control it, then you are looking at an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders manifest in different ways for different people, but they usually have one thing in common: chronic feelings of fear, worry, and apprehension about normal daily things and situations.

2Only Lazy and Fragile People Have Panic Attacks

When someone has a panic attack, it is not because they want to play the victim. They are not fragile, weak, or lazy. This myth can be extremely damaging to anyone who suffers from a panic disorder and can make them think that their anxiety and panic attacks are their fault. A panic disorder is a real illness where someone’s fight or flight reaction is triggered, giving them severe symptoms that have the potential to be life-threatening. Someone with a panic disorder is not faking to seek attention, nor is there something wrong with their character.

3People Who Have Panic Attacks Are Seeking Attention

This myth can be harmful to anyone who suffers from a panic disorder. Some people believe that a panic attack is not real and that the person suffering from one is just seeking attention. When someone is having a panic attack, while it might seem like nothing to the observer, there is something real happening to this person. Their heart rate can speed up, their blood pressure increases, and they can even have trouble breathing. They are not faking a panic attack just to get attention.

4Anxiety Goes Away on its Own

Anxiety is not a phase you are going through or something that will magically go away on its own. It is a persistent mental health condition that usually requires treatment to make it subside; though the treatment has to be continued to work, it will not make it go away forever. While there might be periods in someone’s life where the symptoms of their anxiety might be less, that does not mean that they have been cured. The symptoms of their anxiety can come back unexpectedly.

5All Anxiety is the Same

There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, and they all affect people in different ways. The most common types of anxiety disorders are:

  • General anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Phobia Anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

6Anxiety and Panic Attacks Are the Same Thing

While a panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, a panic attack can be triggered without triggering anxiety. Just because someone has an anxiety disorder does not mean they are going to have a panic attack.

7Making Lifestyle Changes Can Cure Your Anxiety

While making changes to your lifestyle can help improve your overall physical and mental health, that does not mean that they will magically cure your anxiety. Changing your diet, exercise, and sleep schedule can help improve your anxiety symptoms, but that is all they can do.

8Anxiety is Not Serious

Anxiety disorders can range in severity, but they can cause some sort of impairment that can affect a person’s daily life. If left untreated, anxiety has the potential to cause long-term physical and mental health problems.

Someone who has mild anxiety might lose a few hours a week of productivity to it, while someone with more moderate anxiety might go out of their way to avoid certain situations that can trigger their anxiety.

If anxiety is left untreated, it can lead to depression and insomnia. It can also lead to someone with severe anxiety choosing to start self-medicating with substance abuse.

9You Lose Control During a Panic Attack

Media tends to show panic attacks as someone freezing in fear and hyperventilating; they cannot control themselves at all. This is not always true, though. While the person having a panic attack might start hyperventilating and get dizzy or start trembling, they are not necessarily on the verge of dying or passing out. They do not lose all control of themselves during a panic attack.

10There is No Way to Help Someone with a Panic Disorder

Panic disorders are treatable, and there are ways to get help. Talking to a doctor or a therapist can help someone find the right treatment for them to help manage their panic disorder and anxiety.

11People with Anxiety Need to Avoid Stressful Situations

You can try to avoid stressful situations, but stress is always going to happen. When someone suffers from anxiety, they usually have triggers that can make their symptoms worse or lead to a panic attack. These might be conflicts, social situations, phobias, or fears. They might decide not to attend a work function because it will be more crowded than their anxiety might be able to handle, but even avoiding that can lead to triggering anxiety.

By trying to avoid stress, your ability to function and participate in life can be negatively impacted. Instead of avoidance, learning to manage and cope with your anxiety is important. There are many coping strategies out there that can be tried.

12Anxiety is an Adult Disorder

Anxiety can affect both children and adults. While it is most common in adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately seven percent of children have been diagnosed with anxiety — even children as young as three years old.

13Taking Some Deep Breaths Can End a Panic Attack

While deep breathing can help some people cope with a panic attack, it is not going to completely stop the panic attack. A panic attack often feels like you are being overcome by a wave of emotion, and this can make anyone feel out of control. Taking some deep breaths can help someone get through a panic attack, but it is not guaranteed to make the panic attack stop.

14Self-Medicating Can Help Reduce Anxiety

Sometimes when anxiety is untreated, a person suffering from it might decide to self-medicate to make their anxiety go away. They might choose tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, or illegal substances to do this, and while they might feel a little calmer in the short term, it is not going to work in the long term. This has the potential to make anxiety get even worse and can lead to other physical and mental health disorders.

15Breathing into a Paper Bag Stops Hyperventilation

When someone is having a panic attack on TV, they are usually handed a paper bag to breathe into, which somehow stops them from hyperventilating. Hyperventilation is a common symptom of panic attacks, so when someone sees a person having a panic attack, they might think that handing them a paper bag to breathe into will be helpful. While this can help, it is not a guaranteed way to make someone stop hyperventilating.

16Anxiety and Depression Are Not Related

Many people who have an anxiety disorder also suffer from depression and/or other mental health disorders, including:

  • Bipolar disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Attention deficit/hyperactive disorder
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Headaches

17You Will be Medicated for Life with Anxiety and Panic Disorders

While medication can be used to help treat anxiety and panic disorders, that does not necessarily mean that someone who suffers from them will be stuck on medication for the rest of their lives. Every person is different, and their anxiety needs to be treated accordingly. This might mean medication for one person and something else for another person.

18Getting Anxiety Medication is Hard

While it can be hard to get in to see a doctor or therapist, depending on your insurance, however, once you are able to talk to someone about your symptoms, they can help you find the right medication. The hardest part often is getting an appointment and being comfortable enough to open up.

19People with Social Anxiety Are Just Shy

Social anxiety and shyness are distinctly different. Being shy is part of someone’s personality, whereas social anxiety is an anxiety disorder. When you have social anxiety, you have a persistent fear of being in social situations or are worried about being about performing in a social setting. They are typically preoccupied with worry or fear that they will embarrass themselves or be scrutinized by the people they are with, making them avoid social situations or be filled with dread and panic leading up to them.

If someone is shy, they might be less likely to approach new people, and they might feel a little uncomfortable, but they will not be filled with panic about it.