Dr Cate Howell and Dr Michele Murphey explain the four common MYTHS many people believe about anxiety and happiness. Free yourself from these beliefs and living with less stress but more happiness can be easier than you think.

  • Labelling is helpful

Labelling can be enticing. It tricks you into thinking that knowing more about your problem will lead to knowing a way out or a solution. It is important to ask yourself whether knowing a lot about anxiety disorders and finding a label that fits what you are feeling has been helpful. It has probably provided you with some comfort to know you are not alone and others experience the same thing.

However, some of the clients we see have fallen into the trap of buying into the label of their ‘disorder’. You can be tricked into becoming the ‘disorder’, thinking and behaving like someone with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety does not totalise you as a person — it’s just one part in the bigger picture of your life. It does not speak of your identity. It is very important to see the anxiety as the problem and to separate it from you, the person.

In narrative therapy a great emphasis is placed on separating the person’s identity from the anxiety for which they seek assistance. This is based on the idea that the problem is the problem, as opposed to the person being seen as the problem.

  • Anxiety Problems Are In the Main Hereditary

Research suggests the genetic contribution to anxiety disorders is about 30 to 40 per cent.2 Therefore a person may inherit an anxious predisposition, but this is different from inheriting an anxiety disorder.

The good news is the other 60 to 70 per cent has to do with how you deal with anxious thoughts and feelings. This is something you can change to live the life you want.

  • Happiness is Normal

Our culture supports the idea that happiness is a constant state of mind for humans. However, there are many problems in life that will cause emotional pain, including death, illness, work stress, divorce and accidents.

Also, statistics indicate that one in five adults will experience depression. These facts highlight that it would not be natural for happiness to be a constant state of being, especially when we have just experienced a loss or trauma.
However, happiness can occur frequently and is often a spontaneous feeling. The trick is that we might not take the time to be mindful of it and enjoy it fully when it happens. Many people believe everyone else is happy except themselves, which is actually not the case and again may lead to unhappiness.

  • Anxiety is a Sign of Weakness

The fourth myth follows on from the third one. Our society assumes that psychological suffering is defective or abnormal, and it is depicted as a disorder, illness or weakness and a result of a mind that is somehow defective or faulty.3 Consequently, when we experience suffering due to our thoughts and feelings we label ourselves as weak or stupid or abnormal.

This myth is supported by two sources, the first of which we call the ‘snapshot’. This is our tendency to take a quick look at other people’s lives, a bit like a two-dimensional photo, and then make many assumptions based on the very limited information given by that picture.

When you see others for a small period of time, you may not see them as anxious or stressed. You may have thought, ‘Why can’t I be happy like them?’ You might then jump to the conclusion, ‘Something’s wrong with me. I am weak, broken, hopeless ...’.

However, what is needed is a change of perspective. If you were able to have more of a movie of this person’s life, rather than a snapshot, you would see for yourself that they are just like you, and experience the spectrum of good and bad feelings as you do.The second source that fuels the weakness myth is social comparison.

If you view everyone else as having it easy and being happy but see your own life narrowly, as being all about anxiety, then you will tend to think that they have something you don’t have. If you continue to believe your anxiety stems from some kind of character flaw, broken part or inherent weakness then you will remain stuck.

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Release-Your-Worries (1)News: "Release Your Worries" by Dr Cate Howell and
Dr Michele Murphey is now available from
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