Why Anxiety Is Not Actually a Mental Illness

I personally struggle to see why anxiety is classified as a mental illness. To me it is obvious that anxiety actually is a nervous system response, and should be spoken about in this way for a few important reasons. When my clients understand this new way of looking at anxiety and see why we look at it differently, a new possibility opens up for them that was previously not available. This shift in perspective is so empowering for my clients that I thought I would share it with you.

I am not trying to convince you of anything here, I am just offering you a new perspective that I want you to be aware of - feel free to try it out and see if it resonates, just like when you’re thinking of buying a new pair of shoes. You make sure they fit and that they’re comfortable. It seems that most people have been given this really uncomfortable pair of shoes that hurt, causes blisters, looks really bad, and to top it all off they feel like they are stuck with this pair of shoes for the rest of their life. So many people are labeled with a mental illness and it sticks - even when on the inside, if they look within, they know this is not a fit with who they are or with whats going on.

When you look up the definition of a mental illness (and disorder), you will quite quickly see that these definitions are quite varied and not really that consistent at all. There is no universal definition. Here are two:

Merriam Webster Dictionary: Definition of MENTAL DISORDER

A mental or bodily condition marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, and emotions to seriously impair the normal psychological functioning of the individual — called also mental illness.

The American Heritage Medical Dictionary*: Definition of MENTAL ILLNESS

Any of the various forms of psychosis or severe neurosis. Also called mental disorder, mental disease.

*(From http://dictionary.reference.com/medical/ )

I think neither of these definitions are a great placeholder for anxiety — to me they don’t seem like a great fit, not even close. I invite you to look up a few more dictionaries and see the range.

If the dictionaries can’t agree, it definitely means that it has a very different meaning for every person who thinks about what it is. 

If your doctor tells you that you have anxiety and if you think anxiety equals a mental illness, then the way you will then process what it means to have anxiety will depend on how you view a mental illness.

If you think that there is something wrong with you, that you're broken or damaged or mentally unwell and have a problem or chemical imbalance or have some genetic lack in some area. You will be giving all your power away, without even realising it. You unconsciously become a victim and lose the ability to take control of your life. The label that you think you are giving to some experience (body-mind), actually owns you, it becomes a filter of how you see and experience the world. And it is a filter that I see having negative consequences time and time again for the person who has anxiety and believes that they have or worried that they might have a mental illness.

I see how this ‘mental illness’ label, when used for anxiety, has damaging effects. As stated above. 

It also just explains the effects (the experience) not the cause. It hooks people into the problem and hides away the solution.

How you look at something changes the way you feel about it, and what you will do about it.

This is also true for both the person who is suffering with anxiety and their chosen helper/therapist/coach. If you go to a therapist who sees you as having a mental illness — the interaction will be very different from when you come to me. I don’t see you as being broken — I see it as a potential gift that when you go through the process of uncovering what is going on and rewire/reprogram your nervous system ... you will transform your life and make it far far better in many many ways. 

The reason why I say this is simply because I see this every day in my clinic. I see people who have been struggling with anxiety for years, holding onto their labels (the labels begin to own and control them) break free.

I want to make something clear — I am just stating my opinion, which has come about after helping many many people who have been told that they have a mental illness; that they need drugs to get by, that they may have failed to see any lasting results with their psychologist or therapists, they then come to believe that they will be stuck with this thing called anxiety for the rest of their life — I have helped them break free! And not once did I work with anyone to help resolve a mental illness - we just worked with the nervous system!

In fact, when I think someone actually has a mental illness that is causing the anxiety, that is when I will refer them out to someone qualified to work with mental illness’s — this is the domain of psychiatrists and psychologists.

Why do I get such extraordinary results with anxiety?

Let me explain with first sharing with you my definition of anxiety. My definition of anxiety : a sympathetic nervous system response of high arousal, causing increased awareness to protect oneself from danger, real or imagined.

I see anxiety as a nervous system response. The fight or flight is activated. Sometimes clients are always in this state (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), it’s like this protective, defensive ‘switch’ is always turned on. And sometimes this response is triggered by certain situations (social anxiety) or with random triggers of sudden intensity (Panic attacks).

Anxiety is often caused by an accumulation of stress over a period of time — this is the majority of cases of anxiety. And sometimes from one big traumatic event or period of intense stress (PTSD).

All of these types of anxiety have one thing in common — the nervous system is in a state of fight or flight. And this is why we work with people at the level of the nervous system helping them to be able to move out of a state of fight or flight and into a state of safety and ease.

When the nervous system is safe, you feel safe. When you feel safe you don’t need to worry, you can become excited about the future once again. I help people everyday — I don’t label them as having a mental illness — because I don’t see anxiety that way. I get fantastic results because I am not placing people into a box with no solutions, but by providing a framework (that I customise to each person) that moves clients quickly towards feeling safe again. Like how they used to live life before this anxiety was in their awareness. I love watching people make these transformations. It almost always surprises people, how quickly they start feeling great.

If you are interested in seeking help feel free to contact us we would love to help you. We offer a 12 week program that is getting amazing results.

Take a look at our site, watch/read some testimonials and contact us to make a time to chat on the phone and we can work out the best way to help you break free from anxiety.