It can be hard to understand what someone is going through when they suffer from intense anxiety or an anxiety disorder when it’s not something you’ve experienced before, but sometimes the best-intended advice and support isn’t always what’s best to say. Below are some suggestions for what not to say, and some things that might help.
Calm Down / Relax / Chill Out
If I am told to calm down or to relax, I am most likely going to have the opposite reaction. In my opinion, this is the worst thing that can be said to someone suffering from anxiety. My husband is one of the lucky ones who does not have anxiety, and at the beginning of our relationship, it was hard for him to understand what I was going through. If I was panicking or really anxious his advice would be for me to “chill out” or “relax”. I already know that I need to relax, but being told to makes it sound like it’s that simple. If I could simply just relax, trust me, I would.
Being told to “stop worrying” falls closely into the same category as the previous paragraph but relates more to panicking. When I was suffering from panic attacks, they mostly stemmed from an endless cycle of “what-ifs” and worried thoughts. I hated being told to stop worrying. Again, if it was that simple I would stop. Most of the time I knew that what I was worrying about was ridiculous and unnecessary, but my logical mind and my anxious mind don’t agree most of the time. My husband has learned that the best way for me to stop worrying is to talk to him about what I am worrying about. Hearing it out loud and usually makes it not seem so bad.
It’s All In Your Head
Trust me, I already know it is all in my head. I already know how creative my mind can be when it comes to anxiety. But I simply cannot ignore that. The mind is a powerful thing, and it doesn’t help to hear “it’s all in your head”. Hearing this does not make the thoughts and feelings less real, no matter how ridiculous they may be.
I Know How You Feel
I think relating to people and showing empathy are very beneficial tactics, but only if you truly know how they feel. I know everyone goes through some form of anxiety, but as someone who has suffered from an anxiety disorder that has at some points consumed my entire life this can seem patronizing.
Just Be More Positive
You can be the most positive person and still struggle with anxiety. Trying to stay positive does help with anxiety, but it’s not the only factor. Also, being told to be more positive makes it seem like it’s not okay to get upset. One of the main things that has helped with my anxiety is to accept my feelings, and this is whether they are positive or negative feelings. Instead of telling someone suffering from anxiety to be more positive, help them remember the things or activities that make them happy and positive.
Some things that can help:
Before starting this blog I wasn’t very open or vocal about my struggle with anxiety, so most of my friends and family didn’t know much about it. This is because I wasn’t sure how people would react or think of me. So to me, the number one thing that can help someone suffering from anxiety is to simply be there to listen with no judgment or advice. Just listen.
Ask how you can help. Everyones journey with anxiety is different, and what helps one person may not be the best thing for another. I also don’t like asking for help, but when someone is there to offer it I am more likely to realize it’s okay to receive help sometimes.
Tell them you’re always there for them. Anxiety can come and go and be triggered by many different things. For someone with anxiety it can be nice for them to know that they have someone they can talk to so they aren’t always alone with the anxious thoughts.
Help remind them of the things that make them happy. Whether this is offering to take them out to lunch, inviting them over to watch their favorite movie, going on a run together, etc., positive distractions can be nice to override the anxious thoughts.
Check-in on them. A simple check-in text can go a long way. This shows the person that you’re there for them and allows them a place to express their current struggle with anxiety if they want to share.