Your heartbeat quickens, your palms are drenched in sweat, a nauseous feeling takes over your stomach as you worry you won’t make it through what you’re about to endure.
Anxiety. Everyone’s felt it at one point or another. Whether it’s before the test your grade depends on, or seconds before a socratic seminar — anxious feelings are a part of high school and life in general.
But feeling anxious and having a diagnosed anxiety disorder are far from the same thing. People need to stop carelessly and publicly self-diagnosing themselves with mental disorders and learn the difference between healthy anxiety and a clinical disorder.
Based on how much the word “anxiety” gets thrown around in school and on social media these days, you’d think everyone is suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders and panic attacks have become trendy and almost desirable among modern teenagers.
People, especially teenagers and millennials, have been misdiagnosing themselves when they don’t get a text back from their crush or they don’t know if they can pass the upcoming AP U.S. History test. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard a classmate generalize an anxiety disorder as casual nerves or butterflies.
Another commonly used term that goes along with “having an anxiety disorder” when you’re stressed about going into a DECA competition, is panic attacks.
It’s hard to go through a five-minute passing period without hearing someone complain about the “panic attack” they had last night after their favorite Bachelor contestant didn’t receive a rose. According to MedlinePlus, symptoms of panic attacks can include difficulty breathing and heart palpitations — it’s not a synonym for being stressed. It’s common and understandable for teens to experience anxious feelings. But it’s not okay to equate these feelings to a mental disorder, no matter how quirky or relatable social media makes them seem.
Whether the misdiagnosis comes from someone seeking attention or lack of awareness and education about the disorder, the self-diagnosed “anxiety disorder” needs to stop being thrown around so casually and people must be educated properly in order to do so.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms may vary depending on the particular disorder, but can include excessive worrying about everyday situations, constant fear of being judged or unwanted, becoming easily fatigued, avoiding social situations, trouble falling asleep and many others. For someone struggling with an anxiety disorder, certain situations like cancelling a lunch date with your friend because you’ve never been there before, doesn’t necessarily cause the anxiety, but it ignites and intensifies it.
Possessing one or two of these qualities doesn’t mean you have a disorder. It takes a combination of these symptoms to lead to an anxiety disorder. Normally when someone is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s because there’s not a specific reason as to why they feel anxious — they have irrational, constant panic.
“When it comes to [normal anxiety], you can point to a reason why and that’s okay: that’s normal,” Psychology teacher Brett Kramer said. “For people diagnosed with generalized anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder, it has to be something that interrupts their ability to live a normal day-to-day life.”
According to Kramer, people with non-clinical anxiety have tolerance for issues and inconveniences that face them every day, whereas people with a diagnosed disorder are beyond that threshold for tolerance.
People begin to exaggerate their nerves or the butterflies in their stomach and justify an anxiety disorder. If they feel sad they think they have depression, and if their room is always clean they have OCD.
When you falsely claim you have a mental disorder, it can greatly affect others around you — if they struggle with said disorder themselves, or know someone with the disorder.
“If you’re sitting next to someone who is diagnosed with [a mental disorder] and they hear you say that insensitively, that can be very hurtful and it is probably absolutely crippling to their day to day life,” Kramer said.
The casual use of this word in the false context can take away the seriousness of the disorder and can cause it to lose significance when a true case of a clinical disorder presents itself.
If a person genuinely believes they have an anxiety disorder, they need to see a professional. More caution should be attributed to the subject to prevent diagnosing oneself with a mental disorder that isn’t there.
It’s not trendy or unique to self-diagnose yourself with an anxiety disorder of any kind, and it shouldn’t be used to gain sympathy or as an excuse. As specified by Kramer, an anxiety disorder is a very complex topic that must be handled as such. An umbrella term for several different mental health disorders, anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), just to name a few.
There needs to be more sensitivity and better education about anxiety disorders to prevent future misconceptions. If you feel anxiety in certain circumstances, your feelings are valid and normal, but that doesn’t automatically mean you have clinical anxiety and you shouldn’t treat it as such. Anxiety disorders are real, diagnosable conditions that prevent a person from living the life they’d like due to their high levels of anxiety and low tolerance for that anxiety.
The next time you go to complain about an undiagnosed mental disorder, consider the inconsideracy of doing so around someone who is actually diagnosed with clinical anxiety, and if you believe you have an anxiety disorder, see a professional or a therapist to find a way to live the life you deserve.