I often think about the number of times I’ve witnessed certain individuals saying they’re experiencing anxiety within the context of a joke. I’ve also witnessed people mistakenly claiming they have anxiety because they get anxious from time to time. I’ve come to realize that it’s important to give these individuals the benefit of the doubt because they simply may not know any better. However, it’s equally as important to stress that using the term “anxiety” loosely or self-diagnosing actually minimizes those who deal with different forms of anxiety on a daily basis. 

What do I mean by minimizing?

Let me give you a scenario. Jessica finally built enough courage to tell her best friend Lauren that she was diagnosed with severe anxiety. Lauren then replies with, “I totally get. I get nervous before certain things, I must have anxiety too.” Without realizing it, Lauren just unintentionally minimized Jessica’s truth. As a result, Jessica then starts questioning her own anxiety disorder, which may make her feel more defeated than she already feels. It’s important we continue to educate ourselves on these types of disorders so we can empathize with the person confiding in us. Sometimes you may not know what to say because you can’t relate—rather than trying to relate back to a situation, just simply listen. Listening goes a long way. Think of it as a snowball effect. By listening, we are learning and by learning, we are helping one more person feel less alienated. A small gesture like listening can manifest into something greater. Thomas Jefferson once said, “knowledge is power” and the more we learn about mental disorders such as anxiety, the better friends we can be to someone like Jessica.

I am not taking away from the fact that a majority of people experience feeling anxious. We’re all human, after all. However, just because you get nervous moments before a presentation or before going out on a first date, doesn’t necessarily mean you have anxiety. It means you are anxious in that present moment but that feeling of discomfort will eventually pass. 

What’s it like living with anxiety? 

It’s severe panic attacks that feel like you’re experiencing a heart attack. It’s intrusive thoughts that simply won’t go away no matter how much you try to escape them. It’s the constant obsession of a particular subject until you obsess over the next. It’s like trying to find air while you’re underwater, which is beyond the bounds of possibility. It's like having an unwanted guest over in your brain at all times. 

To put it simply, it’s a never-ending cycle. Sounds intense, right? The harsh reality is, those who have anxiety feel this way more often than not. It’s also important to note that there are different types of anxiety disorders and that everyone experiences them differently. Just because someone may not experience what I mentioned above, it doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from anxiety—so please be mindful.

I leave you with this: mental illness is very real and is not something to be exaggerated. The term “anxiety” is not meant to be used lightly. It’s one thing to occasionally experience anxiety—it’s another to live with it every single day. To those who have anxiety, you are not alone. To those who are fortunate enough not to struggle with it, keep listening and keep learning. It can truly go a long way.

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