For those of you suffering from anxiety, you know that it is hard turning to others for support. For those of you who are the people that someone with anxiety leans on, it can be so hard to know the right thing to say and how best to support them. Therefore, I have decided to write this weeks’ blog on the things that people should NOT say to someone with anxiety. If you suffer from daily anxiety I challenge you to talk to you husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, friend, etc. and tell them the things they may say that simply do not help you. In some cases their words may trigger your anxiety to be even worse.
If you typically confide in people that love you, trust me when I say that they WANT to know what they can say or do to help you. They just don’t always know what that may be. YOU need to help yourself by letting others know what they can do, what they can say, and what things you may need to support you. YOU need to do this for your loved ones, so that they can help you live your life as free of anxiety as is possible.
I know that I have been fortunate with an extremely supportive family and group friends who have actively wanted to help me through my journey living with anxiety. However, even with my amazing and supportive family and friends they have each said things along the way that have made me feel worse about myself in a time when I was already struggling. I know that they do not do this in an intentional way to hurt or dismiss what I am dealing with, but sometimes it happens and they are unaware of what their words have done to me. It is important to remember that those NOT suffering from anxiety may have a hard time understanding what you are going through.
Please know that in no way am I being negative towards the people that do not suffer from anxiety. I am not being negative about the things they may say. I am just wanting to share with both anxiety suffers and their support systems what responses I have received personally that made my anxiety worse instead of better. I hope that these statements facilitate communication and awareness. So without further ado, below are 10 things you should NOT say to an anxious person and why.
1. Just relax. Calm down.
I can practically hear my husbands’ voice saying these words to me as I type. I can also hear my heated response, “If I could JUST calm down or relax I would.” It is so hard when you are wound up tightly, stressed, worried, and in the midst of extreme anxiety. It is even harder to hear someone tell you to just relax and calm down. Do you know how desperate we are to do both of these things? Anxious people would love to be able to just flip a switch and turn all the anxiety off. Anxious people would love to just instantaneously be able to calm down or relax at the recommendation, and it is frustrating being aware of what you need to do and not being able to do it. We know that we SHOULD relax and SHOULD calm down in the midst of our anxiety, but often times we have an extremely hard time in the moment doing these things. Instead of saying these words it would be best to say something validating. Try to say that you understand they are needing a few minutes to calm down, you know that what they are experiencing is hard, and that you are there if they need anything.
2. Just stop thinking about it.
I promise you that if someone could just NOT think about it they would gladly do this. Unfortunately, the more someone tries not to think about something the more they obsess over it, and are unable to get it out of their mind. It may be tiresome and hard for you to understand the need to talk through everything, but letting them talk through whatever is worrying them will be much more beneficial for them and in the long run you.
3. Just get over it, and let it go.
If it was as easy as just telling themselves to just get over something and move on, then I assure you they would have already done it. It is not easy to just get over something when you have a lot of fear, worry, and stress involved. Instead, offer to help them come up with a plan that they can follow in steps to address and let go of their anxiety.
4. You’re allowing your anxiety to win, and in turn are bringing anxiety on to yourself.
Anxiety is NOT our fault, we do NOT choose it. Not one person I know would choose to bring anxiety on themselves. Trust me when I say, we already know that in some ways we are contributing to own anxiety, and we don’t need reminding that we are making it worse. I will be the first person to admit that YES I have often fed my anxiety by giving it power over me. Your mind is a powerful tool to overcoming your anxiety, however, if you are in the thralls of anxiety then you feel as though your mind and body have betrayed you. You already feel like your anxiety has won, and you don’t need to be told that YOU let it happen.
You are probably self-aware that anxiety just kicked your tush. You feel overwhelmed with your mind and body not responding correctly (without anxiety), and it is frustrating to be told that it is your fault how your body and mind are reacting to the world around you. You can’t help responding to fear when you are afraid of a situation, you can’t help responding with panic when you feel overwhelmed, and you can’t help your body’s physical reaction to a perceived threat. Those of us who suffer from anxiety are aware that we contribute to our anxiety, but we don’t need reminders from others that we might be bringing it on ourselves by not being strong enough to overcome our fears.
5. It’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it.
Even though this phrase was said to me out of love and with hope that anxiety would not be a permanent battle that I lived with, it was still so frustrating to hear. The better phrase would have been, “It will get better as you grow and learn to deal with your anxiety.” Yes, life can kick your tush and throw a lot at you at once and cause temporary anxiety that you can overcome with better circumstances and time. However, for someone that suffers from generalized anxiety this statement is incredibly frustrating.
Generalized anxiety is not a phase that you just grow out of. You might work incredibly hard to build up management strategies that work against your anxiety most of the time in order to have a better future, but anxiety will still always be there to some degree. Accept that your loved one might truly have to live with anxiety for LIFE. No, it is not something you ever want for someone that you love to live a life of anxiety.
Accepting that they need to prepare themselves long term is important. If you tell them it is just a phase and the phase never goes away, they will be even more anxious and scared that it is not going away. They will forever wait for a day that their anxiety magically phases out of their life, and unfortunately that does not always happen. It is better to accept that they have anxiety, and try to help them understand it and learn to live with.
6.Snap out of it, it can’t be that bad.
Tough love brought this phrase out of a family member when they felt helpless and unable to “fix” what was happening to me when I first started having panic attacks. Forcefulness of wanting to get me back to myself was not going to miraculously take me back to my old non-anxious self. If I could have just snapped my fingers and found myself at peace, I would have done it. It was hurtful being told to snap out of it, because I knew in that moment they were incredibly frustrated with me on top of the fact that I was incredibly frustrated with myself for a reaction that I couldn’t control. I also knew there was no way they understood what was going on with me. This one little sentence made me feel so misunderstood and alone.
It really was THAT bad. Not only was I scared and confused with what was happening to my body and mind, but I was physically and mentally not able to be whom I NEEDED to be. I felt like I had been robbed of myself when my anxiety started up. Not only did I WANT to be back to normal, but I couldn’t function like I NEEDED too. I was not over exaggerating when I felt too scared and worried to drive. I was not over exaggerating when I felt like I was truly having a heart attack when a panic attack would set in. I was not over exaggerating the heightened fear, stress, worry, and utter panic I felt each time anxiety gripped me. It made me feel ashamed that someone would think I would exaggerate what I was going through and how it was affecting me. After this statement was told to me, I flat out refused to talk to anyone (DO NOT DO THIS IT IS NOT HELPFUL). I was embarrassed and ashamed and isolated myself, which was not healthy. This single phrase kept me from getting the support and help I needed for months.
7.You’re just too sensitive.
Anxious people are sensitive. Yes, we worry over everything and take everything to heart. Yes, we have to actively work on under-reacting instead of over-reacting to almost everything, but it is NOT because we are sensitive that we have anxiety.
8. Don’t be paranoid.
To an anxious person, being paranoid is COMPLETELY different than anxiety. We do not want to be told that we are paranoid, it makes us feel terrible about what we are thinking and feeling. Yes, we might need to go over something a million different ways in our minds and stress over fearful factors in our surroundings. However, that does not mean that we are paranoid. What we are feeling in that moment of fear, or that moment of stress is very real to us for whatever reason that our mind and body tell us.
9. There are a lot of people that live with worse anxiety, and they don’t react like you do.
Perspective is an important thing and can teach you a lot, however, do not compare one persons’ problems to another persons’ problems when it is not you walking in their shoes. Comparing someone to someone else only invites feeling of in-adequateness and self-judgement. Just don’t do that to someone you love and care about.
10. I don’t know what you want me to do about it.
This one is frustrating both for the person living with anxiety and for the confidant. It is hard hearing about the struggles for the millionth time from someone you love, and not feeling like you can actually DO anything to help them. I know it gets frustrating not feeling helpful, but know that you are helping just by listening to them. Listening and being present is doing something about their anxiety.
**For suffers of anxiety, remember your loved ones are desperate to try any tactic they feel will help you. Try to remember they come from a place of love even when they are forceful, harsh, or hurtful (not talking about verbal, emotional, or physical abuse as those are completely different circumstances and should be addressed).***
I hope these things NOT to say help all people touched by anxiety. I would love to hear your thoughts on this weeks' blog.
Until next week readers,
Hey all you awesome people reading my blog. I'm Ginger and this blog chronicles how I live my life fabulously with anxiety.