Mental Health

What NOT to say to someone with an anxiety disorder

First and foremost, don’t talk about things you cannot understand. Easy, isn’t it? But how many of us do actually like to “contribute”, and more often than not we do mean well. The problem with most people is that they think they should say something to help, but they don’t care enough to try to understand. We are all different, but should our differences become something that set us apart from each other or instead what brings us together?

If you genuinely care about someone who is dealing with mental illness (anxiety, since that’s what I know more about), allow me to give you some advice. Learn to listen instead of speaking. Listening, despite looking “passive”, has an enormous power to show someone that you care about them.

Here are 5 things that you probably want to avoid saying if you finally decide to break the silence and attempt to do something that feels more proactive than listening.

1.     Try to relax.

I have talked about it before in my blog and explained it in detail: a person with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can’t just relax. There are no brakes in the system. Believe it or not, we try, but the more we do, the harder it gets.

Don’t assume people enjoy being anxious, that they have never tried to calm down or that they don’t know about the consequences of being constantly stressed. Try to empathize instead. By saying “I understand, it’s hard” you acknowledge their suffering and let them know you trust them.

2.     It’s not worth worrying about.

Let me tell you, nothing is worth worrying about. I get it. When someone has anxiety disorder, they know that; their rational brain does still work, but their subconscious tells them (or should I say us) otherwise. Coping with anxiety does require work with wrong beliefs that make a base for unending worry, but it can take years until a person learns to change them. One thought (“it’s not worth worrying about”) will not make a difference.

3.     You are too sensitive.

People with an anxiety disorder are often sensitive. Many times, it is because we are simply exhausted to be in a fight-or-flight mode all the time, but stating the obvious is not going to help a person who’s struggling.

I have been told I was weak for being the way I am before. It was hurtful, not so much because people thought that I was not strong enough to deal with daily stressors, but because I simply couldn’t do anything to change my condition. So them saying that only made me feel worse about myself.

4.     Everyone gets anxious.

It’s true that everyone gets anxious, but it doesn’t mean everyone has an anxiety disorder. People who are nervous from time to time have no idea what it is like to live with constant anxiety that’s impossible to control.

It’s like saying “I get out of breath when I am running as well”, to the person who has asthma. The sensation may be similar, but severity isn’t the same.

Telling a person who has an anxiety disorder that everyone gets anxious is belittling their suffering, and it will most likely make them stop sharing their struggles with you.

5.     What are you worried about?

Again, people with an anxiety disorder don’t know exactly why they are anxious. It’s like anxiety is constantly playing in the background of their head while they are trying to live their life. It’s exhausting, and it never stops. There is no turn-off button that would help them stop being anxious, and there is no explanation for this condition. It’s just there. Sometimes years of psychoanalysis don’t help figure out the underlying cause for mental distress.

I would highly encourage you not to ask a person who has GAD why they are anxious or worried if you don’t want to trigger a negative response.

So, these are my “Top 5” things what not to say to someone who struggles with anxiety. Do you agree on these? Share below if you have something to add, I am curious to know. Until next time on Pillows&Trees.