Coping with the Anxiety Stigma

Anxiety is something we all face at certain points in our lives; however, those with elevated amounts or a diagnosed disorder might be embarrassed or ashamed about their anxiety. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon to encounter people who feel that since they have control over their everyday anxiety, other people with anxiety should easily be able to control theirs. Also, some of this prejudice can extend to medical professionals as well, where doctors do not treat a patient's anxiety as a real concern. While as much as 5 percent of the population suffers from an anxiety disorder in some form, it is still not well understood by laymen and professionals alike.

Navigating the Medical Establishment

The most frustrating and oftentimes dangerous stigma for a person with an anxiety disorder to deal with comes from the medical community. Poorly educated practitioners may see the patient as “neurotic” or “high strung” and not see anxiety disorder as the medical condition it is. Worse, if the person with an anxiety disorder has a separate medical condition, because of the label of “anxious,” then their symptoms are more likely to be perceived as “in their head” instead of true indicators of a serious medical problem. Many serious medical conditions, such as cancer, often present with diffuse symptoms: vague aches, generally feeling lousy. These vague symptoms have a higher chance of being ignored in a person with chronic anxiety.

Consider the following tips for dealing with your medical establishment:

  • Communicate your concerns clearly in a non-emotional, very logical way.
  • Write down the symptoms ahead of time and be specific.
  • Research your symptoms before your appointment and ask for specific tests.
  • Insist on the same care standard as someone without anxiety disorder.
  • Report practitioners that have shown extreme insensitivity.

If you don’t get the care or consideration you need, get a second opinion or change practitioners.

Dealing with Others

Social interactions can be more difficult for a person with an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety are often more sensitive to how others feel and find themselves absorbing other people’s feelings, which is why they might want to avoid someone who makes them feel anxious.

Furthermore, people with a lot of anxiety may think others would have a hard time relating to them -- they might be embarrassed about their tics or phobias and wouldn't want to be the subject of personal questions or judgments. Thus, a main consideration in dealing with others and their perception about anxiety is knowing that their behavior is usually based on a lack of overall knowledge about anxiety. Those with social anxiety can be excluded (oftentimes self-induced) from daily interactions at work, church, and other social venues.

Interacting with the Uneducated and Insensitive:

  • Make conscious decisions about with whom to interact.
  • Visualize the interaction in your mind ahead of time.
  • Explain to them that you have the condition.
  • Explain to them what you need (e.g., “It’s better for me if you don’t complete my sentences.”)
  • Be polite and try to smile and be pleasant.

A person with an anxiety disorder needs to be patient as well. Know that dealing with someone with an anxiety disorder requires more energy than dealing with someone without an anxiety problem. Be understanding; it is harder for people to be rude to someone who is polite and friendly. Beyond that, avoid people who have proven they cannot understand and accept your condition.

Adjusting to a Life of Medications

Having any chronic disorder often means taking medications on a regular basis. There is often a stigma associated with someone who has to take medications regularly, particularly a young person without an overt medical condition. Without being unnecessarily secretive, try taking your pills in private. You don't need to discuss your medication unless you want to. And remember, most people, over the course of their lifetime, will be taking some form of medication on a regular basis.

Adjusting to Going to Psychotherapy

Thirty years ago there was a real stigma around going to psychotherapy, but now it is widely accepted. In many communities, as much as 70 percent of the population is in psychotherapy or has seen a psychotherapist at one time or another. Psychotherapy is out in the open now, and people go for minor problems as well as major ones. It’s not uncommon to be in an upscale restaurant and hear someone say, “My therapist says . . .” If positive progress is being made with your therapist, having a good attitude toward the therapy will only increase that progress. Seeing a therapist shouldn't evoke feelings of shame; rather, be empowered that you are actively seeking the help and guidance you need.

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