Medical Student Syndrome: The Danger of Self Diagnosing an Anxiety Disorder
It is not unusual for someone who learned something about a disorder to begin looking at how one might fit the diagnostic criteria. The ‘medical student syndrome’ (where the medical student imagines he or she has every disease studied about) can affect us all. We can become overly burdened with the thoughts of having a psychological disorder. It is important to keep in mind that each mental disorder in the current diagnostic manual requires a precise number of symptoms, over a certain period of time, and under a certain intensity in order to be diagnosed by a trained professional. With this said, we all will possess a symptom or two for nearly all of the recognized disorders. This experiencing a couple of symptoms does not automatically result in a diagnosis for anyone.
Let’s look at anxiety as an example. We all experience anxiety throughout our lifetimes. Anxiety happens to be a helpful, naturally occurring human emotion. Anxiety is a genetically engrained mechanism that the entire animal kingdom utilizes to not only avoid danger, but also pursue life-sustaining activities. There is a normal level of anxiety that we all should experience when faced with life’s stressors. Anxiety is typically a stress response, and helps us take the necessary steps to accomplish the needs of each particular stressor. The proper response may be to run away from or run toward a particular stimulus. The proper response may be to speed up one’s reaction or slow down to think more clearly. Each of life’s important tasks requires a certain amount of anxiety to properly respond to it.
For some of us, our anxious reaction may be more than the situation requires for resolution. This would be considered an overreaction. This too is a common occurrence for many individuals under certain specific immediate life stressors. The occasional ‘overreaction’ still does not constitute the need for an anxiety disorder diagnosis.
There are some of us who perpetually feel a sense of being anxious. The common expression of these anxiety symptoms are reported as a combination of the following:
- always feeling tightly wound up,
- always on edge,
- constant knee jerk reactions to most circumstances,
- inability to fall asleep or get a good night’s sleep,
- feeling stressed upon waking in the morning
- overreacting to most of life’s circumstances
As you can read into the above mentioned symptoms of anxiety, it is the persistence of the feelings that can be of concern. If you experience these feelings persistently, then visiting with a mental health professional may be a good idea. You still may or may not have an anxiety disorder. If your life experiences are more alike what was mentioned in the first three paragraphs, then it may be that you are simply responding to life’s stressors from within the tolerable threshold of anxiety.
Written by Michael J. Maxwell, Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC, CSC | Associate Professor at Argosy University, Dallas
The information and opinions expressed herein represent the independent opinions and ideas of the author, and do not represent the opinions and ideas of Argosy University.