Anxiety and anxiousness: two things that should not be confused

Lara Cate Wright, Features Editor

Hands sweat, eyes race, breathing stops. According to the National Institute of Mental Health in 2015, for 6.3 million teenagers in America, this is a daily experience.

Anxiety is a mental illness. It is a feeling of worry or fear so strong that it causes someone not to be able to carry out his or her day. Anxiety is often confused with the feeling of being anxious, but the two are not the same.

“[Anxiety] can get to the point where it’s difficult to function. Even just going to the store or school–normal things,” guidance counselor Pam Yelle said. “Severe anxiety means you can’t function. It means you can’t compute required tasks for living. It’s nothing to joke about, it’s very serious.”

As a mental illness, anxiety cannot be physically seen, so it’s easy to fabricate a set of characteristics for what anxiety is. However, anxiety is often not what people make it out to be. Anxiety is being petrified to speak for fear that what is said will be wrong. Anxiety is having a panic attack and feeling as if there is no way to breath or move.

“For me, most of my panic attacks come from sensory overload. It’s basically where there is so much going on around me that I cannot focus on anything but I can focus on everything. I can hear people talking and it becomes a muddled roar. The ground often shakes when I look at it, and after that I just shut down,” Sophie* said.

Anxiety doesn’t go away after finishing a math test. Anxiety doesn’t go away when that risky text to the cute guy is sent. Anxiety doesn’t go away when the butterflies stop after giving a speech for English class.

“People can easily assume that on my happy days that’s how I am everyday because that’s what I want people to see. When it does come about that I am in an anxiety state it’s confusing for them to think about how I can have two contrasting attitudes within hours but that’s just what I live with. It’s been that way for three years,” Sophie* said.

Feeling anxious is different, it is an emotion that everyone has.  When the feeling of being anxious starts to impact and disrupt an individual’s life, anxiety may be the culprit. Within the realm of anxiety comes Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD, PTSD, Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. There is a world of difference between feeling butterflies in your stomach before an exam and feeling the world stop when your trigger word is spoken.

Romanticism means to describe something as being better that it actually is. Think of the quintessential Disney movie ending. That’s not how life works. Today, students are glamorizing the idea of anxiety by making it seem appealing to have. Its increase can be found in the rise in teenage anxiety since 2012, which makes it easier to romanticize since more people are diagnosed with it.

“I feel like anxiety is an emotion, but when people abuse the word, it makes me angry because they make it seem as if it’s not a big deal,” Stella* said.

The use of the word “anxiety” is being used as a trend, a buzz word that captures attention within a conversation, an excuse by students when they are not putting forth their maximum effort and a way to make someone seem special though they are not diagnosed. It’s becoming “cute” and “quirky” to have anxiety. This is not right.

If you do have diagnosed anxiety, that is not a weakness. It’s not something that is bad to have. What is bad is that non-diagnosed people are taking this illness that can mar a person and are creating it into a trend for personal gain.

“When people continually use [anxiety] as an excuse, it gets a negative connotation because people are going to get tired of hearing it. Then, when someone actually needs help, people won’t want to listen,” Harriet* said.

The use of the word “anxiety” is not an adjective to throw around. Statements like “this English project is giving me anxiety” or “I have so much homework I’m going to have a panic attack” should not be used in jest. Each time the disease is used in a “casual” manner, its importance and its impact are lessened. Anxiety is a serious illness and should be treated as such.

“I think it diminishes the legitimacy of when people actually have the mental illness when people say that they have one,” Debbie* said.

The glamorization of the illness causes people to view those who are suffering from anxiety as being over-dramatic and like they are “putting on” for the attention. Pretending to have anxiety for kicks can turn around and hurt those who need the help because society is so used to a false alarm. People are using anxiety to set themselves apart and to be different, but when having the illness isn’t “cool” anymore what will people turn to next? With an increase in diagnosed cases of anxiety, this is a reality for the future.

“I’m afraid to speak up about how I feel because I never know if someone will actually help me or tell me to get over it,”  Harriet* said. “It’s like I’m alone in these situations when I should have people actually help me. There’s such a large stigma around it that I don’t know what to do.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety, you should never feel embarrassed. There are many ways that you can handle the situation. If you do not have the illness, please have sympathy for those who do. If everyone works together, the romanticism that surrounds anxiety can be lessened. Be an ally not an aspirant.