Anxiety - What Not to Say
Helping Someone Who Suffers With Anxiety
I have personally suffered with clinical anxiety. I've supported the love of my life with her own anxiety, and my teenage sons have dealt with this condition as well. Anxiety is something that will touch every person on this planet in one way or another, whether the struggle is your own or that of someone you love.
It is easy to be dismissive about someone else's anxiety when the suffering is internal. This condition does not manifest outwardly, unless they let it show. The majority of mental health issues are invisible illnesses; it's hard to know they're there unless you are told about them, and it's harder still to empathize with a situation that is unique to the sufferer.
So, how can you help without sounding condescending—without sounding like you are looking down your nose at the other person?
I'm going to share some of the worst things you could possibly say to someone with anxiety. I will offer some insight into how the other person may feel afterward, and I'm going to share some tips to help anyone who is supporting someone with anxiety. What you say matters.
"Everyone feels Anxious"
It's true, everybody does get anxious occasionally. The difference is the severity of your response to it.
Anxiety can be a massive motivator in getting things done but it can also be crippling. If your term paper's due and you're worried about it so you decide to get it done, this is a healthy response to anxiety. Being unable to envisage completing it because every time you think about it you sweat, your heart rate goes up and it seems pointless because you're doomed to failure, this is an unhealthy response to it.
"Everyone feels anxious", but they don't all feel the same. If you care for someone who suffers with anxiety recognize what they are going through, sympathize; because being flippant about their struggles is going to get both of you nowhere.
"You need to calm down"
Sometimes anxiety can be so intense for it's sufferer, like white noise cranked up to eleven. It is not something you can just switch off, it's overwhelming.
Calming down takes time, instead of wishing someones anxiety would go away you should ask if there is anything you can do to help. Sometimes just knowing that someone is there for you can calm anxiety, other times you could aid in the removal of stressors or even take the anxious person somewhere quiet where they can calmly take control of their symptoms at their pace.
Anybody that has suffered from extreme anxiety will tell you, they also wished it had an off switch.
"It's all in your head"
It is all in your head, but then again it isn't. Anxiety provokes a very real physical response in most sufferers. Be it shaking, nausea, heart palpitations, the list really does go on and on. Whilst these responses are a product of your mind they truly are hard to control.
Someone that suffers with anxiety is fighting it a lot more than you may be giving them credit for, it takes time and counselling and/or medication to take control back and trust me when I say their struggles are very real.
You reap what you sow, being callous with someone with anxiety, essentially telling them their problem is imaginary; will end badly.
"Is it my fault?"
No, but asking that is not helping. You're just creating more things to be anxious about, "how I'm acting is affecting them, my anxiety is hurting them".
Do not make this about you, not if you want to help. Instead hold their hand, be their safe space and give them a hug. Your support is what matters, sometimes you can seem like the only safe place in a cruel world. Do not take ownership of their anxiety, assist them in calming down and taking control of it.
"Just get on with it"
Imagine it, you've just had your anxiety triggered, your heart rate has blown up and you're visibly shaking. You're paralyzed by it, and then your partner or coworker just turns around and just tells you to suck it up. Forget about it. If it were that simple you would, you just cant. Anxiety has enveloped you and left you with no escape.
When someone with anxiety is going through an anxiety attack there is no magical way to end it, no cure as such. Just support and understanding that seems to be a finite resource for almost everyone. Be patient, be supportive and maybe with your help they can get through it.
"Just be happy"
It's hard to "just be" anything, emotions aren't something you can switch on and off and treating them that way is ridiculous. Next time you are upset, try to just be happy instead, to forget what has happened and move on without it affecting you. It is not possible, not without some serious willpower and time both of which are required when trying to shake off a panic attack.
Instead, consider what you can do to help make them happy. If their emotions mean so much to you and have such an effect then you obviously have a vested interest in their emotional well being, invest a little time and effort; the difference you can make with a little sympathy and assistance is astounding.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Think before you speak. What you have to say can really have an impact on someone with anxiety. When anxiety sufferers have an attack, they feel like they are letting themselves down as well as everyone else around them. Imagine they're in a maze, and their only guiding light to lead them through the labyrinth is you. How you comport yourself can have a significant effect on how long it takes them to find their way through the maze.
Sincere support and love can change the world. This is especially true for someone you love.
Just remember: We are all only human.