3 Things You Should Never Say To Someone With Anxiety

3 Things You Should Never Say To Someone With Anxiety

Even if you think you're being helpful, you might be doing more harm than good.
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Today, anxiety disorder is the number one most common mental illness in the United States. 1 in 5 people suffer from it, which chalks up to a whopping 40 million Americans. 40 million people, in just one country. Not surprisingly, western civilization tends to suffer from anxiety more than our Eastern Hemisphere friends, probably due to the USA’s competitive, success crazed society. Chances are that one of your close friends, family members, or loved ones probably suffers from anxiety, and you may not even know it.

Though millions of people have different variations of anxiety disorders, it’s not something you can see. You might witness symptoms or behaviors that are presented as a result of the disorder, but you’ll never really be able to see what’s going on inside that person’s head. You can’t see the turmoil and distress that an anxious person has to endure while they struggle with their own thoughts. It’s not tangible – you can’t grab it, or hold it, or throw it away in a trashcan. It’s not a light bulb you can switch off or unscrew. It’s not a splinter that you can pull out with a pair of tweezers. You can’t put a bandage on it. It’s just there, under the surface. The only person who can truly get to it is the person who suffers from it. It’s a constant internal battle.

As one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from anxiety, I can tell you that my anxiety doesn’t just affect me; it affects the people in my life. It affects my relationships and interactions with them. It affects how much time I spend with them, how focused I am, how personable I am.

The relationship between a person who suffers from anxiety and a person who doesn’t can sometimes be a complicated one. It can be difficult for a non-anxious person to understand the inner mechanics of an anxious mind. An anxiety-ridden mind is complex. In many situations, you might not know how to react to a person who is experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. That’s not your fault. We know you really just want to help. But sometimes, you do more harm than good, even if it’s unintentional. Here are a few things that you should never, ever say to an anxious person. Though they may seem like simple, helpful phrases to you, they usually only end up making us more frustrated during an already challenging situation.

1. "Calm down."

If we could be calm, we would be calm. But we CAN’T. There’s no magical switch to turn off anxiety, so telling an anxious person to calm down just frustrates them even more. Just remember this simple rule of life: Don’t ever tell your angry girlfriend (or an anxious person) to calm down. It won’t go well.

What you should do: Remind them to breathe

When someone is anxious, and especially if they’re in the midst of a panic attack, they often hyperventilate. Breathing slowly and mindfully is one of the most effective ways to slow a person’s nervous system and calm them down. Chances are, if they have sought professional help for their anxiety, they’ve probably been taught a breathing technique or two. But sometimes we just need a little reminder to practice those exercises. Doing so is a much more constructive approach than simply telling the person to calm down.

2. "Just be positive."

DO NOT tell me to “just be positive”, or any other anxious person for that matter. It brings on a world of frustration. What might be easy for you isn’t necessarily easy for everyone else. Yes, anxious people combat a slew of negative thoughts, so it seems obvious to just point our brain in the opposite direction, right? Wrong. Positive affirmations do help in the fight against anxiety, but when you tell an anxious person to “be positive” you make it sound so simple, and it belittles what they're struggling with. The reality is that it's NOT easy. Taking back control of racing thoughts is a difficult, exhausting task.

What you should say: "You are okay".

No matter how many times we try to be positive ourselves, it doesn’t always work. But hearing a positive affirmation from someone else helps to solidify the thought. Make sure you have their attention, and say it with confidence: “You’re okay.” If you’re confident, it will help them be confident.

3. "There's nothing to worry about."

Alright, deep down, we know that there’s probably nothing to worry about. But we really can’t help obsessing over it. A lot of the time, anxiety isn’t rational. Therefore, we really can’t rationally explain to you why we are so worried about x, y, or z. And we definitely can’t just stop worrying. People who don’t suffer from anxiety sometimes just won’t get it. But saying “There’s nothing to worry about” makes us feel a little crazy.

Personally, sometimes the only way to talk me down is to rationally deconstruct my irrational fears. For example, I went to the beach a while ago with some friends. For those of you from New Hampshire, you all know how freezing the water can be. I was the only one out of my group to go in the water. I was only in for about a minute, but it was so cold that by the time I came out, my legs were numb. Cue my irrational fear that maybe I was going to get hypothermia from spending a mere minute in those frigid waters. A friend of mine, however, calmly and rationally talked me out of my own head. He pointed to all the other people in the water “You see those people? They’ve been in the water longer than you, and they don’t have hypothermia.” He told me that I had to be in frigid water for x amount of time to get hypothermia, and that my body had to drop to a certain temperature. Or something like that. But it worked. My anxiety melted away, and I went back to enjoying our beach day.

What you should say: "Everything is going to be fine"

Saying “everything is going to be okay” might be a similar idea to “There’s nothing to worry about,” but the difference is in the delivery of the message. Reassuring the person that they are safe will help them relax. Sometimes we just need to be told that everything is going to work out. Sometimes, the anxiety or panic is based around absolutely nothing. In which case, it is sometimes okay to say ‘There’s nothing to worry about” as long as you pair it with the positive affirmation that everything is going to be okay. But if there is a specific situation that the person is worrying about, try addressing that issue directly, and assure them that it is highly unlikely. And even if the worst does happen – everything is still going to be okay. Just remember: if you’re confident, it’ll help us be confident too.

Cover Image Credit: News-PressNow

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Sometimes when you see someone all the time, you take that person and their friendship for granted. When you don't get to see one of your favorite people very often, the times when you're together are truly appreciated.

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3. You always have someone to text and FaceTime.

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4. You can plan fun trips to visit each other.

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An Open Letter To The Person Feeling Everything Is Too Much

The strongest people to exist struggle the most.

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Hey, you.

I heard through the grapevine that life's got you in the dumps. You're feeling overwhelmed by your surroundings, stressed by your responsibilities, sensitive to the things that people are saying; everything just feels like it is too much. It almost feels like you're stuck in a room filling up with water. You know that the door opens, but you're numbed by the circumstances; you can't get yourself to take hold of that handle, so you just stand there, frozen in time. You feel the water rising up around your body, and with every inch it gains, you get even more overwhelmed. Maybe the water flooding in contains your schoolwork, your family dynamic, your drama within your friend group, your relationship status, internal anger about who you are or aren't, or hell, maybe all of these.

You feel like life is throwing rogue waves at you left and right, and you can't understand it. Why is this happening to me? Why is life trying to break me?

Well, let me tell you something that has taken me years to even grasp, let alone fully understand.

The strongest people to exist struggle the most. They are given some of the most intricately woven issues that may not have a black and white solution but live somewhere within the gray. Things pile up and upon them until everything feels like too much. And you know what they do, the strongest people to exist?

They break.

They stand there, trapped in that water-filling room, and let the water seep in. They don't open that door, they don't take the easy way out. They stand there, thinking about what is being thrown at them, not knowing what to do. They let the water overwhelm them, completely filling the room. And right when they feel that they can't take this anymore, like everything is too much, the door breaks... they break. The strongest become the weakest as they float out of the room, carried by the rushing water filled with their burdens. They lay washed up on the shore, weaker than ever... broken and cracked, frozen and numbed by life.

While they lay there broken and numb, weakness does something so immaculate and beautiful: it settles into the brokenness and the cracks like fresh, fertile soil, planting the seeds of wisdom and strength. Over time as it continues to rain, wisdom and strength grow throughout their bones like vines, making them even stronger than they were before they got trapped in that room before they broke. The strongest people to exist break frequently, so that room can be made for more love, more strength, and more wisdom than imaginable.

Now you may be thinking, why this analogy? What are you getting at?

I want you to know, and read this closely: it is okay to break. It's okay to let everything feel like it's too much because you know what? Sometimes it is, it just is. Sometimes, you have to just stand there, and let yourself feel. Let it explode and wash over you. Let it leave you cracked. Once the explosion has ridden its course. analyze the broken pieces you feel inside. Look at them individually and try to find the root of that feeling. Finding the knowledge behind that feeling means that you now know how to fight back. So you know what you do? You piece yourself back together, slowly but surely, using wisdom as the glue, and you come back stronger than ever before.

You have to break before you can grow. Let yourself feel, feel all of it. Break and be grown anew.

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