Imagine for just a second that your own mind is your worst enemy. Imagine every word, every action, being under strenuous critique all day and night. You know your thoughts are just that — thoughts — but you still lose control of them. This is only a fraction of what living with anxiety is like.
The issue with anxiety is a lack of education, which causes disconcerting negative stigmas. In order to fix this, we need to remove the stigma of decision versus disorder and promote an attitude of understanding and love worldwide. The unfortunate reality is “the stigma of mental illness is … worse than the illness itself, according to Beyond Blue. The biggest misconception surrounding anxiety is that it is a decision, not a disorder. This stigma can make those suffering from anxiety feel self-conscious, causing them to isolate themselves and never try to get treatment for their mental illness. The fact is, anxiety is a disorder.
It develops “from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It’s a very real, very scary thing that is invisible to uneducated outsiders. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says, “it is an excessive, unrelenting, emotionally unpredictable … mentally crippling disorder centered on expecting the worse.” It is not something anyone would willingly choose.
My anxiety affects me most in my schoolwork. It causes me to get stuck in an endless cycle: anxiety, panic, guilt, trying to relax, and then panicking all over again. This cycle is cold and relentless. I feel guilty because I know I should be working hard, not having a mental breakdown, and yet trying to ignore the throbbing panic of my mind only causes its hold to become greater. As I try to open up about my anxiety, I only become more anxious. Some people don’t understand my anxiety is a disorder, and those people always tell me to “stop overthinking things.” Anxiety is not as simple as an on/off switch I control. It is more sporadic and looming, like a natural disaster. I can predict and sense when an anxiety attack is incoming. But no matter how much I prepare, there is always damage that lingers long after the attack ends. In order to fix the decision versus disorder stigma, we must educate the world on the reality of anxiety.
Anxiety is not a weakness. It is not a decision. It is a legitimate mental illness affecting more people than we will ever know or realize. Anxiety is an internalized struggle, something inside you and your mind. As such it can be effortless to overlook the demons inwardly consuming our closest friends and peers. By discussing and understanding the reality of mental illnesses, we allow others to realize they aren’t alone in their struggles and that they can reach out for help to face their inner demons. As we learn more about anxiety, we help to disband a hazardous stigma, and in turn, we allow those suffering wordlessly to open up in an environment of acceptance and love.