There's no denying that each and every person in this world wants to be happy. It's what drives us. It's what makes you want to accomplish things, and it's what you hope to do be working towards when you wake up every day. According to Deepak Chopra, there are several keys to living a happy life. Some of the most interesting include:
- Listen to your body's wisdom.
- Live in the present.
- Take time to quiet your internal dialogue.
Everyone deserves to find happiness, and there are those that will find that happiness using these types of tips. But while these tips may cause happiness in some, there is a large percentage of the population that finds these very tips to be the problem, not the solution, for happiness: those living with anxiety.
Anxiety Scam – The Beliefs That Anxiety Causes
Many people struggle with anxiety disorders, and millions more suffer from "manageable" anxiety that still creates a barrier towards living a happy life. Anxiety appears to affect a large percentage of the country – over 1/5th to 1/4th at some point in their lives – and that means that millions of people are out there suffering with something that has a drastic impact in their quality of life.
One of the reasons that anxiety is interesting is that it is very treatable. There are therapies, medicines, and coping strategies that are proven effective, and while there is no one size fits all approach that benefits everyone, it is a condition that studies have shown can nearly always be treated, provided a person commits to the right approach.
Yet for some reason there are still millions of people suffering. According to the National Institute of Health, only a small fraction of these individuals even seek treatment, and only 33% of those seeking treatment are receiving what's known as "minimally adequate treatment." In other words, nearly 85% of those suffering from anxiety are either not seeking treatment or seeking a poor treatment that ultimately won't work. Those are significant numbers.
It's something that doesn’t make much sense, until you realize that anxiety is, in many ways, a scam. It's a life condition that is inherently deceitful, to such a degree that the vast majority of people with anxiety fail to treat it, and the very same tips and strategies that Chopra discusses for living a happy life become a burden that anxiety takes advantage of.
What Makes Anxiety a Scam
A scam is defined as "a dishonest scheme" or "a fraud." The truth is that these define anxiety extremely well. Anxiety is by its very nature something that is fraudulent. In many ways, it's a mental health disorder that is based on the idea that your brain is telling you that certain things are happening when they're not.
Scams work because they take advantage of you. They create trust – misplaced trust – and they create a feeling as though there is a reason for them to be there when there isn't. The following are many different reasons that anxiety itself falls under the definition of "scam:"
Anxiety is False Fear
At its core, anxiety is the activation of your fight or flight system when it should not be activated. Your fight or flight system is the biological mechanism that prepares your body to react when you're in danger. Imagine you were out in the wild and came face to face with a rapid lion. Your fight or flight system would immediately:
- Rush adrenaline into your blood stream (for excess energy).
- Accelerate your heartbeat to ensure rapid blood flow.
- Pump blood into your most important muscles.
- Cause you to sweat so that your body can prepare for the heat of battle.
- Focus your mind to react to the danger at hand.
Whether you ultimately fight or run away, your fight or flight system is in place specifically to ensure that as soon as you're face to face with danger, you react faster than you ever could before.
Anxiety is the activation of this system without fear. It's a disorder – or a type of disorder – that tells your body that there is something to fear when there isn't, tricking it to react to the fight or flight response despite the absence of anything warranting that level of fear.
Each disorder is different, but they all seem to share this type of anxiety scam commonality. For example:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Causes fearful thoughts and a general feeling of danger nearly all day every day for no particular reason, often causing a person to have fears at random that are unjustified.
Panic Disorder Cause a person to fear for their own health or wellbeing despite no actual physical reason to have these fears.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Causes someone to fear their own thoughts, or possibly believe that they need to behave a certain way to rid those thoughts.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Causes someone to fear a past trauma as though it is likely to happen again.
Social Phobia Causes someone to fear social situations, judgment, and the belief that if they try to branch out and talk to others something bad will happen to them.
All of these are false beliefs. They're all examples of ways that the brain is saying "hey, trust me on this, you should be scared" only for nothing to end up happening.
That's what anxiety does to you on a regular basis, and the main reason why anxiety itself is a scam.
Anxiety is Self-Sustaining
Another problem that often arises from anxiety is a fear over anxiety. Essentially, those with anxiety are not only experiencing a reaction to whatever fear their anxiety is causing them to react to; they are eventually reacting to their own anxiety.
In this sense, anxiety creates this feeling that anxiety itself is to fear. All anxiety disorders have this problem, but the easiest way to understand it is with one of the most debilitating disorders: panic disorder.
Panic disorder is its own self-sustaining disorder. It starts with a person's first panic attack. A panic attack is few minutes of extremely intense anxiety with physical symptoms so severe it can feel as though you're suffering from a heart attack. A small sample of these symptoms includes:
- Chest pains
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trouble breathing
All of these types of symptoms are combined with a feeling of doom, as though you're about to die or something terrible is about to happen. Panic attacks are debilitating events, and some people that suffer from them end up in an ambulance because they're convinced that they are having a heart attack.
A single panic attack doesn't cause panic disorder, however. What causes panic disorder are three issues:
Health Anxiety Panic attacks can create health anxiety, where people start to believe that something may be wrong with their health. Even if you know you have panic attacks, it's nearly impossible to shake the feeling that something is wrong, because they are so severe that your anxiety creates that feeling.
Fear of Panic Attacks You can never get another panic attack again and still qualify for panic disorder. That's because the disorder also causes a fear of panic attacks. There are many people that live in constant fear of getting another panic attack, and what makes this such a problem is that not only does living in fear cause distress – fear of panic attacks can actually cause panic attacks, because you overthink your body and you experience more daily anxiety.
Hypersensitivity Another problem that occurs in those with panic attacks is hypersensitivity. It's when your brain notices every single change in the way you feel at any given moment, to the point where the sensations are amplified and cause fear on their own. Hypersensitivity can lead to more panic attacks, health fears, and fear of panic attacks, because as soon as you feel even the slightest change in your body (such as the tiniest increase in heart rate) you'll notice immediately, experience fear as a result, and have an exacerbation of your anxiety or panic attack symptoms.
All anxiety disorders have these types of issues. Anxiety essentially creates problems that ultimately create more anxiety, thus causing anxiety to create itself in a constant cycle.
This is a common part of scams. Like other scams, anxiety makes itself necessary. It changes how you feel so that you have more anxiety. If anxiety were a person, it would be like someone that convinces you to buy a business for a significant investment, and comes back to you every day saying the business needs more money.
Anxiety Makes You Believe Anxiety is
Permanent, Untreatable, Etc.
For something to really be a scam, it needs to create trust. While no one that has anxiety wants to have anxiety, they'll often find that they trust their anxiety in ways that they are unable to control, and usually aren't cognizant of occurring.
What many people don't realize – even those that have anxiety or have cured there anxiety – is that anxiety can actually change the way you think to such a degree that you believe that your thoughts are real.
Mental health problems affect the mind not only on an emotional level, but also on a chemical level. It's well known in today's research that anxiety can both cause and be caused by changes in your serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitter levels.
It's hard for people to truly understand how neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) affect your thoughts. But they do, and they do so in a powerful way, and when they do it makes the end result (anxiety, sadness, fear, etc.) seem completely natural. Your thoughts are affected by anxiety, and when anxiety affects your thoughts you'll often have no idea.
This can be difficult for people to grasp. The best way to understand it is by looking at something other than emotions. Imagine that your brain chemicals were responsible for your knowledge of math, and after their levels changed you were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that 1+1=3. In fact, you would swear by it. It doesn't matter how much evidence that other people show you – you know, because of the way your brain works, that 1+1=3.
That's what it's like with anxiety and your thoughts. It doesn't matter if you know you have anxiety or not. You'll have negative or fearful thoughts, and these thoughts will feel so natural that your brain will be unable to question them.
In the long term, this can cause a lot of different issues:
- You may believe that your fears are justified.
- You may become more negative or notice things more cynically.
- You may feel as though your anxiety cannot be treated or that you need to give up on your treatment because it isn't working.
These are all incredibly common. Anxiety genuinely creates these thoughts. The latter plays a significant role in treatment as well. Many people with anxiety believe so strongly that their treatments aren't working or can't work that they stop or don't give them a complete effort. They may also give up on finding new treatments when one fails, or they may try nonsensical placebo treatments because they're easy.
All of these thoughts to these individuals are often caused specifically by anxiety, which creates a negative mindset by altering neurotransmitter levels. This is how anxiety is a scam. It essentially convinces the brain of things to such a degree that it's practically hypnotism. Everything feels so natural that the person suffering from anxiety is unable to question it, and allows it to continue affecting them.
Anxiety is a Trick of Life
Taking it a step back, one might even say that anxiety itself is simply a trick of life, not just a tricked mind. No matter your personal religious beliefs, everyone believes that their life should have a purpose. Some may believe that purpose is to fulfill a higher calling. Others may believe that their purpose is to simply live happy and live well. Others believe their purpose is to procreate.
It doesn't matter what you believe your purpose is, anxiety affects all of it. It takes away your ability to live a purpose filled life. Anxiety wasn't something you wished for. It was something you contracted, like a disease, that takes away your ability to live that purpose filled life.
Just a look at the causes of anxiety shows you why it's something that you were "tricked" into:
- Genetics – You didn't choose to have the DNA you have.
- Upbringing – Your anxious parents can cause you to be more anxious.
- Experiences – Getting bullied, having some bad experiences, etc.
- Friendships – Who you surround yourself with affects confidence.
- Stress – Stress at work, alcohol withdrawal, and anything that causes stress.
There's rarely a single cause of these issues. Even in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, which is caused by a traumatic event, the same event may cause PTSD in some people but not others, indicating that there must be something different about those that get PTSD that they cannot control.
It's not something you asked for, and it's not something that's supposed to be a part of a healthy and happy life. It's something that interrupts your life – like catching the flu on your wedding day – and it's something that few people prepared you for as a child growing up.
Now For the Good News: Anxiety Isn't Permanent
One day you wake up, get dressed, and head to your favorite coffee shop. You walk inside. The barista says "Want the regular today?" and you smile and say "yes, please." She then writes down your drink on a cup and prepares to ring you up.
You hand her your debit card. She runs it through. She runs it through again. She runs it through a third time.
"I'm sorry," she tells you, "it says this card is declined."
You're confused. You hand her a $5 bill, grab your coffee, and immediately run home to check your bank account. Your bank account should have $5,000 in it. It has -$100, and has over-drafted twice. You check your individual charges and find that you seem to have unauthorized charges in a state on the other side of the country.
You panic. Thousands of dollars of yours is now stolen. You've been scammed. Someone has gotten hold of your bank account information and stolen your hard earned money.
The scammer is anxiety and your money is your happiness. You've been affected. You're broke. You have nothing left, and it can feel as though you're in a great deal of trouble. You have bills to pay, you have places to go, and all of your money is gone, and it feels like there is nothing you can do about it.
But you call the bank, and talk to the fraud prevention unit. You discuss these unauthorized charges, and they tell you something that helps:
"We'll refund your money within 4 to 8 weeks."
Anxiety may make you feel helpless. It may make you feel like there is nothing you can do. It may affect your thoughts and your motivations so that it actually makes it harder for you to treat. But anxiety is an incredibly treatable condition – one with well researched, documented, and widely used treatment options that can help you regain control over your mental health and learn to cope with your stresses in the future.
Yes, anxiety may convince you that it's untreatable. Anxiety may make you feel that you're the only one suffering from the symptoms, or that there is something wrong with you and that other people are wrong.
This is what scams do. This is how they affect the way you think and feel. Scammers succeed because they're incredibly convincing, and they give you the feeling like you can trust them.
But like a stolen bank card, there are ways to recover, provided you know where to look. It doesn't happen right away, and you may need to fight to keep it away for years to come, but the potential to rid yourself of that anxiety really is there, provided you understand where to look and how to connect with it.
How to Stop Falling For the Anxiety Scam
Recognizing that anxiety is a scam, and recognizing that it has that power over you is one of the most important things you can do. But it doesn't stop there.
You need to motivate yourself to seek treatment no matter what. Make it a priority, and focus on the truth that you can control and even cure your anxiety in the end.
You also need to learn more about your anxiety as best you can, so that you're armed with knowledge in a way that will help you treat it. We mentioned earlier the tip from Deepak Chopra about "taking time to be silent" – if you know about anxiety, you know that to help reduce anxiety, you need to do the opposite. Distract your mind so that you can't let your thoughts run wild. Anxiety is a complex condition, and the more you learn about it the more you'll be prepared to make smart and interesting decisions.
Finally, you'll need to dedicate yourself to the idea that you deserve and should be fighting for happiness. It's not enough to want to seek a treatment for anxiety if you're still going to engage in negative behaviors and activities, because you'll find that your stress and anxiety will almost always come back. Make a promise to yourself to also be happy, and you'll be more likely to experience better results.
Anxiety may be a scam, but there are recovery options in place. Learn to control your anxiety, and the power that anxiety has over you will be gone forever.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.