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It's great we're using the word 'anxiety' more but what does that mean for those who have it?

Red (UK) logo Red (UK) 21/03/2019 Anya Meyerowitz

© Getty Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

'I've got a party where I know nobody on Saturday night and it's playing havoc with my social anxiety,' my friend tells me absent-mindedly as we queue for a slice of cake at our local coffee shop.

I feel myself prickle slightly at her use of the word 'anxiety' but I ignore it, I know what she means: she's nervous, and I completely understand. Feeling nervous when you go into a new situation, especially where you have no allies to speak of, is nerve-wracking - it would take someone pretty inhumanely self-assured to not bat an eyelid at the idea.

And that's the point, isn't it? That it's a totally appropriate emotion to experience.

© Getty I believe that ultimately the more we feel, the fuller our lives are. But anxiety, and depression, is about getting to the end of that spectrum and then spiralling outward. It's spinning a common emotion into a hurricane that tears at the foundations of our being and threatens to crumble all we've built.

For years, as someone with an anxiety disorder myself, I've tried to explain what it's like to people. 'Imagine your body is convinced you're standing on the edge of a crumbling cliff, but actually you're just standing on a station platform on the way to work?'

And slowly, over the years, more and more people have started to have conversations about mental health, about their own experiences and the language we use to describe these illnesses and disorders have slipped more and more into everyday vernacular.

On one hand this is brilliant news. As someone who writes a lot about health and wellbeing it's heartening to see the conversation get wider and trickle into dinner party chatter and office catchups.

Frustrated sad woman feeling tired worried about problem sitting on sofa with laptop, stressed depressed girl troubled with reading bad news online, email notification about debt or negative message © Getty Frustrated sad woman feeling tired worried about problem sitting on sofa with laptop, stressed depressed girl troubled with reading bad news online, email notification about debt or negative message On the other hand however, the language around mental health sliding into the zeitgeist has also served to diminish the experience of many sufferers.

It's unintentional and not maliciously intended in any way but it has an impact, and I've felt this first hand.

My friend telling me she's got 'social anxiety' about a friend-free party is just the tip of the iceberg. I've had colleagues tell me 'they're depressed' after watching eight straight episodes of a Netflix series and I've lost count of the number of people who have told me they're 'so OCD' about something that is completely normal.

But a mental health disorder isn't a throwaway statement, a knot in your stomach before a big meeting, it's that buzzing feeling, that begins in your brain and swiftly swarms to your body, and slowly encases you so that you forget you are the sole owner of your thoughts. You feel helpless, you're unable to focus, you feel such palpable fear it's hard to believe that the world isn't ending right then and there.

Gallery: 19 Natural Remedies for Anxiety [Health.com]

Anxiety UK defines an anxiety disorder in the following way:

Stress is something that will come and go as the external factor causing it (be it a work, relationship or money problems, etc.) comes and goes, anxiety is something that can persist whether or not the cause is clear to the sufferer.

Anxiety can make a person imagine that things in their life are worse than they really are, and prevent them from confronting their fears. Often they will think they are going mad, or that some psychological imbalance is at the heart of their woes. What is important is the recognition that anxiety is normal and exists due to a set of bodily functions that have existed in us from our cave-man days.

Broken heart young latina woman sitting in bedroom. Depressed hispanic girl at home, lying on bed and holding pillow with sad expression. © Getty Broken heart young latina woman sitting in bedroom. Depressed hispanic girl at home, lying on bed and holding pillow with sad expression. Before I had anxiety I'd experienced feelings of angst but now, years on, having just recovered from a severe bout of anxiety that saw me constantly nauseas, dizzy and absent from work, I can testify to the fact that often there is no 'situation' to solve.

Sometimes I can wake in the middle of the night feeling shaky, adrenalised and with an impending sense of doom, even though my life is as good as it was at 10pm when I went to bed. I can feel like I can't get enough air into my body suddenly while popping out to the shops or have to count myself through a tube journey until I can get off at the next stop and find a quieter, but invariably more convoluted, route to work.

So when my friends, family, colleagues, whoever, use the word 'anxiety' as easily as they use the word 'sad' or 'discouraged', I can't help but feel more alone in my struggle.

And that's the risk you run when you bring something out of the shadows and into the light, you can't always control how it is interpreted. I don't expect someone who has never had an anxiety disorder to really understand how debilitating it can be but I do know that it's meant I've felt as if my own experience hasn't been taken seriously.

If I tell a friend I am anxious they are perhaps less likely to take action in the same way because they equate it to their own understanding of the term 'anxiety'.

Beautiful sad senior woman is leaning on her hand and looking downward while sitting on couch at home © Getty Beautiful sad senior woman is leaning on her hand and looking downward while sitting on couch at home We all talk in hyperbolic text speak, we using crying emojis when really we haven't even slightly curled our lip, and I often find myself proclaiming 'I'm dying!' in response to a friend telling me about an awkward moment. It's the climate we live in, it's all heightened and hyper, as if we are actors living out our lives on stage, using larger-than-life hand gestures and facial expressions to delight the audience.

And in a sense we are living out our lives on the stage of the internet, we have to use increasingly emotive language to compete against all the other bikini photos and selfies out there.

So what can you do about it if you are someone who struggles with your mental health and wants to make others aware of the painful differences?

Jo Loughran, Director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign, explains:

Nervous young woman is touching message on smartphone while sitting on sofa. Pregnancy test stock is on table © Getty Nervous young woman is touching message on smartphone while sitting on sofa. Pregnancy test stock is on table 'Mental health problems are genuine and often debilitating conditions, yet too many people facing these issues are made to feel isolated and ashamed about them. We know that joking about or trivialising mental illness, such as talking about diagnoses in a flippant manner, can fuel negative attitudes and make it even harder for those of us with a mental health problem to speak out.'

How to challenge a friend who uses language inappropriately

'If you’re experiencing a mental health problem and you’re concerned or upset by something someone has said then it’s ok to talk to them about it. Everyone’s attitude makes a difference and it’s only when we all change the way we think and act about mental health that we can truly tackle stigma.

'If you feel comfortable to, you might want to share your own experiences, this can be one of the most powerful ways to challenge others’ attitudes. By telling your friend the reality of your condition you can highlight how diminishing it can feel when your experiences are trivialised.'

Mental health is a battle long waged inside of us and merging this with an external world, one which is so variable in so many ways, was never going to be easy. There were always going to be clashes and conflicts and steps backward for every step forward but let's all, even those who suffer, make an effort with our vernacular around it. Let's give weight to words that deserve it, and save the hyberbolic, emoji chat for photos of our friends' babies.

From politics to sport to TV, read more from the UK’s top columnists

Gallery: 31 Sleep Tips For People With Anxiety [Refinery29]

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