5 Things Not to Say to Someone Struggling With Anxiety
There are moments where it feels like I cannot breathe, and like I have no control over anything. However, for years I classified it as just a normal reaction to a situation, not real anxiety. The word “anxiety” conjures up a different definition depending on who you ask.
Anxiety can be as simple as the feeling you get before taking an exam, but in its severe form, anxiety can be debilitating. Some people are genetically predisposed to anxiety and some struggle because of stressful circumstances.
Regardless of why people struggle with anxiety, it is important to know the facts. If you notice a person suffering from anxiety or having a panic attack, there are certain things you should and should not say. Saying the wrong thing can make the anxiety worse while saying the right thing can cause relief and diminish anxiety.
When anxiety strikes, often the impulse is to handle it in a negative way. We tell ourselves or others to “Get it together” or “stop overreacting” yet these are the absolute worse things to say. None of these thoughts are helpful. While the people who care about you will try to show support, sometimes they also say things that are more hurtful than helpful.
Funny enough, even though I have experienced anxiety, I have been guilty of saying the wrong things to those struggling because I felt powerless in the moment. In the midst of witnessing anxiety, it can be difficult to think clearly. All you know is you want to help, however, despite our best intentions, we often say the wrong things at the wrong time.
Therefore, this list may help you come up with the right thing to say in that vulnerable moment.
5 Things Not to Say to Someone Who’s Struggling with Anxiety
This moment won’t matter a year from now.
While in many cases, you are entirely correct. In the midst of an anxiety attack, a person just lacks the ability to rationalize the situation. Also, you cannot know for sure how a particularly stressful situation will impact someone later on. Perhaps the anxiety-induced situation will lead to another anxiety-prone predicament. For example, maybe being five minutes late may result in getting fired which can lead to getting a car repossessed. It ‘s hard to know for sure how significant a stressful moment in your life is at the moment that it happens. Therefore, you should not predict how you feel the situation will end up.
Instead, try validating the person’s fears and letting them know they are safe at the moment. They need validation that life is uncertain, and that bad things happen.
Life’s too short to worry.
Telling someone that “life is short,” is both very cliché and unhelpful. All this does is create more anxiety because now the person may feel they are wasting their life away because of a weak emotional response they have. It is true that life is short, but you wouldn’t tell that to someone who had the flu. These words vastly underestimate the effort required to manage their condition. Just like any sickness, those with anxiety know there are better ways to live which is why anxiety becomes so devastating.
Honestly, I think the phrase “calm down” really has no place in the universe. There is not one situation where the words “calm down” do anything but cause more tension. I’ve been in a lot of horrible predicaments and the words “calm down” never seemed to alleviate my emotions. However, often that is the first thing people say in the midst of someone’s anxiety attack. Of course, if someone is having anxiety, they want nothing more but to “calm down.” They just are not able to. The advice of calming down is incomprehensible in the midst of an anxiety attack. Instead, offer your support by letting them know that you are there for them and you understand.
It’s all in your head.
It is true that every thought and emotion we have originates from our head, but that does not help in the midst of an anxiety attack. Hearing that our thoughts are “in our head” fuels anxiety and it makes it harder to stop thinking anxious thoughts. Also, anxiety becomes stigmatized because it is viewed as more of a flaw than a critical condition. Instead, open up your heart to someone with anxiety and let them know you are there for them if they need to talk.
When we are thinking anxious thoughts, we need a voice of reason to tell us that these feelings are natural. We need to practice acceptance of our emotions, rather than discouraging them. Instead be an open ear for the thoughts associated with anxiety.
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety is not only about being negative or positive. It is a learned behavior in which we persistently feel unsafe. It is possible to train the brain and minimize anxious thoughts, but this requires a considerable amount of effort. Telling someone to be positive can come across a bit pretentious. Instead, offer your time and support.
Furthermore, telling someone to be positive implies that positivity is a permanent state that can be chosen. No one can be positive all the time and those who pretend to be come across passive-aggressive. Instead of telling someone to be positive, be loving and open. It is amazing the benefit you can bring by being a healthy mirror to others.
If you have anxiety, do not fear. There are ways to heal from anxiety. There are treatment options and counseling available to teach you the tools needed to recover.
If you struggle with anxiety, recognize that nothing in life will ever be perfect. On the other hand, if you do not struggle with anxiety, understand that those who do struggle with anxiety appreciate the better understanding. Either way, if you or anyone you know is currently struggling with substance use disorder or mental illness, please call now. Do not wait. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.
Author: Shernide Delva