31 Mar Six Stigmatised Myths about Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Imagine that you’ve just locked your car, and you’re on your way to a dinner party. You sit down and speak loudly to your friends, laughing and having a great time. But then suddenly, thoughts start popping into your head: Did I lock the car? Maybe I should check? What happens if someone knocks the car? Did I park it right? Was it tilted into the road where someone could knock it? I have to check.
So you get up, excusing yourself to go to the bathroom because you’re too embarrassed to tell your friends that you need to check whether your car is okay. You walk outside to find your car completely fine. It is standing spotless exactly where you left it.
This is a simple demonstration of what it’s like living with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder).
In essence, GAD is excessive and uncontrollable worry over small things that neurotypicals wouldn’t worry about. It is worrying enough to cause impairment in functioning and enough to make you sick. But GAD, and anxiety disorders in general are some of the underestimated and stigmatised disorders. This is because not a lot of people understand why someone gets anxious over things that others don’t even think about. So in appreciation for those suffering with GAD, here are five stigmatised myths about GAD:
- People with GAD can get over it by thinking positively.
Like any mental disorder, it is almost impossible to simply get over something by thinking positively. There are theories that optimism helps people prevent psychological disorders. Personally, I find this completely false. This is because often feelings trigger thoughts, not the other way round. So, if one has an increase of serotonin (the happy chemical), then one is most likely going to have happy thoughts.
- People with GAD are over-reacting.
Once again, this is also extremely problematic. People with anxiety disorders reach a state of fight-flight response in which they experience bodily symptoms, such as muscle tension, sweating and rapid heart rate. Not only do they suffer these symptoms, they also have racing thoughts and lack of concentration, making it difficult to not overreact. Their body is literally under-producing the GABA chemical in order to survive what it thinks is a death threat.
- GAD is a learned behaviour.
GAD is not a learned behaviour. It consists of a predisposition that has been triggered. Environmental factors and brain chemicals also trigger it. The chemical, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is used to relax anxiety among other things. When one has an anxiety attack, GABA is underproduced making it difficult to calm oneself down. In terms of environmental factors, a lot of the time an unsafe environment, especially during childhood, can trigger GAD and other anxiety disorders. And often if one has a predisposition to an anxiety disorder, a scary and anxiety-provoking environment plays a huge role in the development of GAD.
- Medication is all you need to manage GAD.
Not only will medication help manage GAD but so will therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy as well as a supportive family and friends that can help in the identification of certain triggers. Also, some people with GAD choose not to take medication, which is perfectly acceptable. They shouldn’t be told that the only thing that will help manage GAD is medication, when coping mechanisms can help just as much.
5. GAD is attention-seeking
I think neurotypicals will always think people with mental disorders are attention-seeking. There are too many misconceptions and little understanding. Ableism is a term used to describe discrimination against people with mental disorders. It is ableist to label people with GAD as attention-seeking.
Living with GAD is extremely difficult. No matter how hard you try to calm yourself down, this only worsens how you’re feeling. You’re not overreacting, you’re not attention seeking. You are an individual who is suffering and that’s okay. Because after all, you know you’ve locked your car but you still can’t stop thinking about it at the dinner table.