Anxiety Management: Sometimes a Diagnosis is Just a Diagnosis

August 6, 2010 Kate White

I call it DSM Scrabble because lots of people don't fit neatly into the categories doctors put them in. Diagnoses are convenient boxes but rarely entirely accurate, and certainly not the full picture.

It felt like I'd won the lottery the first time someone put an actual name to my experience of anxiety. My shrink knew all these catchy phrases that described where I was: Maybe she had connections? Maybe she could give me courage, a heart, a brain?

But labels draw lines in the sand. Clearly there were standards and I wasn't meeting them, couldn't meet them, and it didn't seem to matter how hard I tried.


Having a diagnosis provides some answers but it's not the whole story. Whether it's GAD, PTSD, OCD or plain old FINE you're dealing with, it's still your mind and you know it best. Nobody's suggesting doctors, friends and family aren't correct but they aren't mind-readers. For which I'm grateful!

Do you feel stuck?

Well you've got this mind, and it works pretty well on the whole: You work, rest and play as best you can but then anxiety comes and trips you up. In the midst of panic, the world can seem so complicated, so complex that nothing makes sense anymore. It's like being on a bullet-train to an unknowable destination -- too much and you want to get off!

How do I get out of the anxiety trap?

I'll have days where I feel like Godzilla with PMT, I'm that frustrated by my inability to grasp what I'm feeling long enough to change it. My throat closes up contemplating the fear, let alone expressing it and my thoughts race, telling me it's hopeless and I'm better off camped out on the sofa for a week.

You work on those cognitions in CBT because therapists like you to be realistic. To be fair, letting it out isn't the real issue, but it certainly isn't easy -- especially if you've spent a lot of time/energy containing your anxiety so that you can live a 'normal' life.

Thankfully, there's no such thing as normal and life is improved if you do at least six impossible things before breakfast. In lieu of that, let yourself feel. Holding things in hurts your chances of recovery; As someone wisely pointed out during the HealthyPlaceTV interview I stammered my way through, "it's a lifetime thing," not just a temporary mood blip.


I imagine my panic-ridden thoughts as a bunch of balloons that I'm gathering up so I can re-attach their strings and bring them down to Earth when I need; It's easy for anxiety to get away from you, and even easier to forget that there are ways out of it.

How do I get unstuck? Start talking!

Talking about your anxiety will probably make it feel more real, in the short term. That can be scary but it's a good thing, precisely because it has emotional consequence.

When your anxiety is high, it's like watching life through fun-house mirrors, so one of the strings I tie my balloons to is the thought that talking about anxiety creates room to outmaneuver it -- whether that's through behavioural change, reinterpreting situations, or simply speaking up.

The more words you can put to the fear, the better because talking about your anxiety with someone who's really listening is exactly the way to gain perspective and get unstuck.

And yes, I'm listening.

APA Reference
White, K. (2010, August 6). Anxiety Management: Sometimes a Diagnosis is Just a Diagnosis, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Kate White

August, 6 2010 at 2:53 pm

I hear you and it feels good to listen to someone who shares my life. Thanx for sharing.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 6 2010 at 11:57 pm

You're very welcome, Isa!

Patty Molnar
August, 19 2010 at 6:52 am

I suffered a major depression in February 7 days before my 42nd birthday.
17 1/2 years. I thought all of this would go away but, I still have the anxiety and panic. You can't explan it to anyone because they don't have the fear or they say you have medicine for it..Sometimes I stress out so much that by bedtime I'm exhausted and very frustrated.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 19 2010 at 7:14 am

Hi Patty,
Yeah, I can really understand that frustration. After so long, and so much hope gone into it, it's not easy. Not that you lose hope, but still, not easy.
Thinking of you

September, 23 2010 at 6:52 am

I never thought i was alone in this, but i have never met anyone that I can relate to with my panic attacks. (you very accurately described the once a month breakdowns, which is what i go through) Anxiety runs in my family, when i was a kid i used to get worry warts and sweaty hands in class. It was really difficult for me because i was the only redhead in my whole school so i was the outcast, Ive grown a lot since then although my insomnia kept me from attending most of high school years, I never understood why i had to breakdown, why couldn't i just look at everything with new eyes, better eyes, and see into myself. It wasnt until i was 17 when my parents decided it wasnt a phase or teenage hormones, but an actual mental health issue. For a while i thought it was too late, and ive reconnected with my close family friend who went through almost the same things i am going through and she has helped me be strong and clear minded, im proud to announce i havent had a panic attack in two months and i plan to keep it that way, my family is really confused about my changes in behavior, even though its bettering me to talk about things that are bothering me when they're used to a sheltered scared little girl. Overcoming my anxiety is still a work in progress but for right now i have it under control. Although i know its still going to manifest itself differently in some way, its not taking over my life anymore. (As i was typing this my hands started sweating and my heart rate increased, anxiety can be so awkward!)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kate White
September, 25 2010 at 2:01 am

Hi Jocelyn,
2 months panic attack free? Brilliant!
Ha It confused my relatives when I started really dealing and being able to handle things, too.
And yes, awkward is a good word for it.

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