The other day I was walking down the street with my roommate and her dog. My roommate has a service dog so her dog goes with her everywhere. Sometimes we notice people get visibly frightened by the dog and will walk far away to avoid being too close. One day my roommate commented, “I don’t understand why people are so afraid. My dog is leashed and well-trained. There’s no real danger.” This is a very honest, and a very good question to ask if you’ve never had a phobia or other anxiety disorder before.
I was beyond terrified of dogs when I was a kid so I can relate anytime someone appears scared of the dog and moves far away. I really appreciate that my roommate asked this because it created a dialogue about anxiety disorders. I was given the opportunity to explain something many people probably wonder but don’t ask, and hopefully this fostered a better understanding of anxiety disorders.
My explanation was that anxiety disorders are not about logic. The response if far more immediate. See a dog? Panic instantly takes hold. Sure, there may be some logic tucked into the core of the fear but for the most part we know our reaction is illogical. As a kid I realized that most dogs weren’t going to hurt me but it didn’t really matter. It took gradually being around dogs more and more (exposure therapy I didn’t even realize I was doing) to get over the fear. We know it’s illogical; it just takes time and work to really prove to ourselves that we are not in extreme danger.
Until you have experienced an anxiety disorder I understand why it can be hard to understand. Her question makes total sense. Don’t we realize we are overreacting, we aren’t in any real danger, and why don’t we just chill out? Of course we realize this, but anxiety disorders aren’t logical. They are extreme responses, and that is why they are called a disorder. It’s not something we can help or just decide “actually this is illogical, I’m going to stop freaking out now.” If I could turn off anxiety that easily I promise I would. Overcoming an anxiety disorder is much more complex than that and requires an immense amount of hard work. This is one reason anxiety disorders are so frustrating because we are being held back and controlled by fears we know are illogical.
I will gladly keep explaining what anxiety disorders are like to anyone that is kind enough to listen.