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Having lived with anxiety for over 13 years, speaking publicly about it for almost 3 and having finally been officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder recently, I’ve heard just about everything. While my family and friends mean well, so many of them have a knack for saying the wrong thing when my anxiety is at its highest. It occurred to me that they aren’t trying to be hurtful, they are really just trying to help me to get over that “moment”. So instead of getting upset, I figured I’d share the 5 things you should never say to someone with anxiety.
According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States, or 18.1% of the population every year. What this means is, someone, if not multiple people in your life, are suffering from some type of anxiety. I’ll be talking about the warning signs in an upcoming post, but for now, I want to share some tips that can help you when those people in your life are having a bad day.
Here are the 5 things you should never say to someone who is suffering from anxiety:
Just Don’t Think About It
Let me make something clear. No one that suffers from anxiety is choosing to think about it. We don’t wake up in the morning and think, “what a beautiful day to stay in bed and feel anxious, sad and helpless”. When the anxiety gets bad, in most cases, we can’t stop thinking about it. It’s just not an option. We have to let those crazy thoughts make their way through our brain, until they are ready to leave. If you tell us not to think about it, the only thing we’ll be thinking is how much we want to punch you in the neck, for suggesting such a ridiculous thing.
What you can do instead: Try to distract us. Don’t tell us that you’re doing it, just do it. Distraction is a great way to take our minds off of whatever it is that’s causing the anxiety. We may be hesitant or might not want to pay attention to what you’re doing or showing us. Music has always worked well for me. If someone turns on a song I like, and I start singing, it takes the focus off of whatever it was I was thinking about and I forget. Read the situation. If we aren’t responsive, don’t push too hard.
I think this is the worst of all the things you can say to someone with anxiety. We can’t just “calm down”. It’s not an option. We need to breathe, work through it, let it pass… however it is that they deal with anxiety. Everyone is different. Eventually, we will calm down, but telling us to do so will only make the matter worse.
What you can do instead: Just be there. Listen. Hold our hand. Rub our back. Believe it or not, sometimes it helps just knowing that we aren’t alone. We are looking for compassion, understanding and support. Providing those three things can make all the difference.
Have You Tried This Miracle Product
Do not, under any circumstances, use the opportunity to sell us a product. Please. I beg of you. There is nothing more irritating than someone claiming that a product will miraculously take our anxiety away. This method is especially awful if you are trying to use the moment to make some money off of us or recruit us. We are dealing with enough as it is. In no way, will buying a product from you, or signing up for your team, ever make our anxiety magically disappear. Don’t do it. Ever.
What you can do instead: Keep your sales pitch to yourself. If you suffer from anxiety and have found something (a method or a product) that calms you down, you can reach out as a fellow-sufferer and find out what they have tried, what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and then (only if we ask), tell us what you do when you’re feeling most anxious. If we know that it’s coming from a good place and from someone who understands, we will be more receptive. But NEVER have that conversation with the hopes of making a quick buck off of us. If you’re constantly posting about your MLM, we are well aware that you sell it. Believe me.
Snap Out of It
If snapping out of it was an option, don’t you think we would just flip that switch? If it was that easy, don’t you think anxiety wouldn’t even be an issue? People with anxiety can’t just snap out of it. We can’t stop worrying. For many of us, the more we try not to think about something, the harder it is to get it out of our head. When you say “snap out of it” we think you don’t believe that what we’re feeling is real. Would you tell someone who had a cut in their hand that they weren’t really cut? Chances are you wouldn’t, because you can see the cut. While you might not be able to see anxiety, it’s just as real and it hurts just as badly.
What you can do instead: Do some research. Learn about anxiety, it’s causes and what could trigger it. Try to understand what occurs when we are having an anxiety attack. You’ll find that it’s so much easier to help and you’re less likely to make the anxiety worse, when you understand what’s happening.
Stop Over Analyzing
For most of us, anxiety and over analyzing go hand in hand. When we are on our way to a special event or vacation, many of us will analyze every second before we even get there. We imagine everything that can go wrong and plan out how we will cope with each awful situation. It’s our way of feeling in control. And our anxiety is usually at it’s highest when we feel like we don’t have complete control over every minute, of every day. For some of us, this over analyzing helps us to get past the anxiety, though at the same time, we are magnifying the anxiety by thinking about all of the things that can go wrong. It’s a vicious cycle but it’s something we can’t just stop doing.
What you can do instead: Help to make us feel as though we are in control. Allow us to make lists, talk about alternative options or just humor us when we make a comment about how we don’t want to go in the water in case there are sharks. Let us see that it’s safe for ourselves. Once we feel in control, we will ease up and join in. You just have to be patient and let us do things on our own terms.
I hope, if nothing else, this helps you in dealing with those of your loved ones that suffer from anxiety or panic disorder. And if you aren’t able to come up with the right words, please remember that the best thing you can do for someone who is having an anxiety attack, is to just be there for them. They may not acknowledge you, but they know you are there and that makes all the difference for us, when things are at their worst.