The Problem With Tyronn Lue Minimizing Anxiety

How Lue's recent statement fosters mental health stigma

Posted May 31, 2018

In a recent interview with ESPN, Cleveland Cavalier’s head coach Tyronn Lue shared the reason behind his March medical leave. Lue explained that at that period in time he was suffering chest pains and was coughing up blood. Although a specific diagnosis remains unclear, Lue shared that his symptoms were due to anxiety. With the team’s decision to trade a key player, a season of several losses, and the pressure to juggle personal concerns of his own in addition to those of  his family and team, it is easy to see how the coach felt that he was under a great deal of pressure.

In recent months athletes across a variety of fields have been sharing more openly about their mental health struggles,  and have been dispelling misleading stereotypes in the process. What could have been an inspirational message about Lue’s ability to grow from mental health problems was tainted by a stigmatizing undertone. Tyronn Lue shared his relief that his problem was “just anxiety” and overall, he was “glad it wasn’t anything serious.” This statement minimizes his own potential plights, but also paints an inaccurate portrayal of anxiety as a simplistic problem with minor implications.

Anxiety is a natural state that is prompted into reaction to danger. Anxiety serves a functional purpose which allows an individual to acknowledge and respond to a potential threat. However, although anxiety can be purposeful and productive, it can become concerning.

There is a difference between occasional anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Whereas occasional anxiety is a naturally-occurring part of life that is to be expected from time to time, an anxiety disorder encompasses severe symptoms such as Lue’s coughing up blood and chest tightness. The symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder can be constant, distracting, and inhibiting are as not as simple as “just” worry.

While anxiety may look different from person to person, common symptoms associated with anxiety disorders include:

  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Emotional and social withdrawal
  • Excessive worry
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Panic
  • Tiredness

Further, anxiety commonly co-occurs with other mental and physical conditions. Although some people may thrive in reaction to short-term anxiety, long-term anxiety has a negative influence on physical health.

Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Decrease in sexual desire
  • Diabetes
  • Eating disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Muscle tension
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Thyroid problems

Severity of anxiety can vary, however, the conditions above are serious. Failing to highlight the potential severity of mental health concerns viewing such mental health problems as minor perpetuate to mental health stigma. The person who may be experiencing symptoms may not recognize their concerns. Delayed awareness can unknowingly cause the symptoms to increase, and not before long, inattentiveness may cause the problem to become disabling.

Further, even if a person begins to see their signs as concerning, they may opt to ignore the level of concern after receiving the message that it’s “just anxiety,” a small, minor problem, that does not warrant seeking help. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America asserts that anxiety disorders are “highlight treatable,” however less than 37% of those who are suffering receive treatment.

It’s wonderful that Lue has found a path to healing through improved habits and medication. Considering the variation in anxiety disorders, it is possible that Lue may truly not see his anxiety as concerning. However, the unfortunate reality is that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the USA. Nevertheless, anxiety can be a serious, yet manageable condition. While someone may be fortunate to just have occasional anxiety, over 40 million American adults are living with a serious problem.