5 Things Most People Don't Understand About Your Anxiety

10/03/2015 02:20 am ET Updated Oct 02, 2016

Originally published on Unwritten by Teresa Tellekamp.

For anyone living with anxiety or an anxiety disorder, the phrase "it will get better eventually" often becomes an internal mantra to push on through the day without any outside support or treatment. The dialogue surrounding mental illness is still riddled with predispositions and judgments that can (and do) prevent people from being open about their concerns and exploring treatment options. Oftentimes someone with an anxiety disorder may seem more like a well-prepared worrywart than a person battling a mental health condition. Even if you feel like you've been able to keep a lid on your anxiety, it still could be preventing you from having the qualities of the fulfilling life you deserve - a dynamic career, an engaging educational experience, or strong relationships with friends, relatives, and partners.

Myth #1: Anxiety isn't a "real" illness

Like stress, some anxiety is natural (and even helpful at times), but an anxiety disorder could impair your quality of life. It is a very real illness. There are multiple, valid types of anxiety disorders, ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorder to specific phobias. If you are living with an anxiety disorder, you are not "just a worrywart."

Myth #2: When you have a panic attack, you pass out or lose control

Even if you wish you could, you won't pass out from panic attacks because they trigger increases in heart rate and blood pressure. Panic attacks can be completely terrifying, but are often made much worse by the fear of future panic attacks. Once you recognize the signs that a panic attack might be coming on and you remind yourself that it will pass, you are one step closer to breaking the cycle of continued attacks. A helpful technique I learned, especially when dealing with flashbacks, is called "grounding." Through grounding, I focus on different things in my immediate surroundings and describe them in my head or aloud ("I feel the cool air from the vent or I see the solid wall in front of me.") Within 2-3 minutes my breathing returns to normal and the attack ends. The best way to ride out a panic attack is to consciously accept the fact that nothing bad will happen to you, and the attack will be over soon.

Myth #3: People with anxiety can "just get over it" if they really want to

In reality, it is a major challenge to overcome anxiety or anxiety disorders without any help or support. Most college campuses offer counseling services, which are often already included in their students' tuition, so you don't have to worry about paying out-of-pocket for therapy sessions. Though medications are available for effectively and safely treating anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tends to reduce symptoms of anxiety more than other approaches, and the positive effects are generally long-term.

Myth #4: All you need is a drink and/or some weed to get you through your anxiety

Even though smoking and drinking may make you feel better momentarily, neither address the root of the anxiety. Any time you are self-medicating to suppress anxiety, especially for social situations, you also take the risk of clouding your judgment. This could inadvertently make your anxiety even worse, or result in unforeseen consequences; the experience of being victimized or vulnerable can kick start a vicious cycle of panic attacks, flashbacks, and feelings of isolation. On the other hand, your anxiety should never hold you back from enjoying your life as you please. If you want to go out with friends but crowded rooms or bars make you nervous, for example, tell someone in your group who you love and trust that your anxiety may act up and you'll need his or her attention and support throughout the night.

Myth #5: Having extreme anxiety or an anxiety disorder is really rare

You don't have to suffer with anxiety alone, because you are not alone: Over 18% of American adults have some form of anxiety disorder (that's one in five people). Though millions of Americans live with some form of anxiety, they may feel that they are alone in dealing with anxiety until they explore anxiety treatment options and meet other people with similar obstacles.

The stigmas and myths around anxiety may impact your decision to receive treatment. Separating the facts from the myths about anxiety can allow you to make the best decisions for working through your anxiety and building the necessary confidence to recognize that your anxiety or mental illness will never define you.

For more information on anxiety and anxiety disorders, including links to support groups, personal testimonials, and resources for treatment options, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America's website at http://www.adaa.org/.