There’s a lot of confusion surrounding anxiety. In fact, if we had a dollar for every anxiety myth we’ve heard, we would have at least 8 dollars. We chose the most common anxiety myths and decided to set the record straight once and for all.
1. Anxiety is not a normal part of life
Completely untrue! Everyone experiences anxiety to some extent, on a daily basis. Not only do things that cause stress happen to everyone from time to time, but without any anxiety, you wouldn’t be motivated to do much. If you didn’t feel anxiety when a car sped towards you, you wouldn’t get out of the way! Some anxiety is also needed to help us perform at our best. Not to mention that we also experience positive anxiety – also called "excitement”!
So while garden-variety occasional anxiety that comes and goes is not harmful (even if it doesn’t feel great at the time), if you experience worry and fear in a more severe, long-lasting way that interferes with your life, you might have an anxiety disorder. In this case, the anxiety might not just go away, and just reducing your stress won’t cut it on its own.
2. Avoiding anxiety-provoking situations is helpful
If something seems scary, you avoid it – it makes sense, right? Well, this is useful when faced with a dangerous threat like a huge, angry snake. But often we start avoiding other situations where we feel other kinds of threat (like being judged), places where we had a bad experience, or thinking certain thoughts that we don’t like. The bad news is that treating yourself as if you are fragile and avoiding any risk leads to feeling like you can’t cope, and only serves to strengthen the anxiety, as you start to see these situations as completely overwhelming. In fact, you can be anxious and still do whatever you have to do.
3. The only people who get anxiety are just naturally nervous anyway
Anyone can experience anxiety. In fact, anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses in Australia. The 2007 Australian Bureau of Statistics annual survey has evidence to say that it is the most common mental illness, with 14% of people over 16 who completed the survey experiencing an anxiety disorder – that’s about 1 in 7 people! Anxiety disorders are a result of complicated interactions between genes and personal experience.
4. If you're having panic attacks, just get used to it
Not a shred of truth in this one. Not even a single shred.
There are loads of people who will experience just one severe bout of anxiety and then go on to live a panic attack-free life. However, for the people who have them pretty regularly, it could be that they have panic disorder, for which there are treatment options available. The important thing to remember here is that while panic attacks are extremely unpleasant, they’re not actually dangerous, and by learning to not fear the symptoms, you’re taking power away from them. Also, have a look at our fact sheet on panic attacks.
5. Carrying around a brown paper bag that you can hyperventilate into helps manage anxiety
Nope – this is just another example of Hollywood making us look like fools. Turns out the ‘paper bag technique’ could actually be doing more harm than good. If you always have a paper bag on you it’s a constant reminder that you’re anxious about being anxious, and gives credit to the belief that you won’t be able to cope with panic on your own. Not to mention hyperventilating, although very uncomfortable, isn’t dangerous in itself (we do it in response to exercise, for example!).
In fact, carrying a paper bag could be fuelling your anxiety in the long run too. It’s a “safety behavior” we cling onto that doesn’t address the root in the first place. A better idea would be to download Breathe, ReachOut's awesome mobile app which provides guided breathing exercises. It's there if you need it - definitely less obvious than a paper bag!
6. Someone with anxiety just needs a stiff drink and they’ll be right
So, as a general rule of life – a stiff drink, although delicious from time to time, is never a cure for anything. Understandably, drinking is a tempting distraction from the highly unpleasant symptoms of anxiety, but there is a huge risk that you will start to rely on alcohol to feel better. If you regularly turn to booze to ease the discomfort, you might find that you start to need it to function and before you know it you’re dealing with both anxiety and an alcohol dependency. Not ideal. Also, alcohol is a depressant, which means it will not help your mood in the long run.
7. People who have anxiety just need to relax
This is about as absurd as telling someone with a broken leg to just get it together and run a race – it just ain’t gonna happen. Like the broken leg, anxiety disorders are serious illnesses and there are treatment options available to help manage them, which have been proven to work through years and years of really clever people conducting research. Although relaxation might be a part of the treatment plan, it also needs to happen in line with a whole bunch of self-help strategies and other treatment options as advised by a mental health professional.
8. It can take a lifetime to see results from treatment for anxiety
We call bullshit! Depending on your situation, you could start to see results in just a few sessions with your mental health professional. Regardless of how long it takes, stick at it because symptoms of anxiety can be managed. If you’re thinking about seeing someone for your anxiety, get some info that can help you make the decision.