Understanding anxiety when you have not been through it, and even if you have, understanding someone else's anxiety is a different thing to conquer entirely. There's no one set way you should treat someone who has anxiety, but there are some tips that are helpful for most people. Especially when it is a friend that has anxiety, people want to help but they do not know what to do. While I cannot tell you what to do, this is what I wish some people understood about my anxiety.
1. Telling people about my anxiety is one of the hardest things to do.
Anytime I tell people about my anxiety, I feel like I am adding a burden to their lives. No matter how badly I want to talk about it, I try my hardest not to because it feels like I am complaining. On top of that, there is the fear that people will treat me differently; that anytime I seem upset they will assume I am anxious. A person can be worried without being anxious.
2. I feel like a failure, especially when anxiety keeps me from completing a simple task.
Often not only do I feel like I am letting myself down, but I feel like I am letting down those around me. The other day, for example, I ordered food and it came out wrong. It took me ten minutes to quell my anxiety enough to go up to the counter to ask them to fix it; I almost didn't and when I finally did I felt like an idiot because it took me so long to do something so simple. Things that seem simple for most people can become a whole ordeal for me.
3. Even if there is nothing terrible happening, I still worry all time.
It could be a Friday night with no work to do, relaxing with friends, and my mind will still be going a mile a minute. I cannot shut off the worrying; my brain is always thinking of the next thing I have to worry about. Even when I get quiet, usually it is not because I am sad, bored, or tired, but rather because there is so much going on in my mind that it is too hard to keep up with that and what is going on externally.
4. Try to be patient with me.
I know that it can be annoying to be friends with someone who is constantly on edge; it is hard to talk to someone who cannot open up easily, but I am trying my best. If it takes me a while to make the words come out, just be patient because what I want to say will come out eventually, it just takes some time.
5. Most times, I don't even know why I am anxious.
Literally no idea most of the time. Yes sometimes I know, like before a big test or an important interview. But most times I could just wake up in a panic and not know why, or be sitting in class and all of a sudden a huge sense of dread will come over me for absolutely no reason and I just have to ride it out.
6. If I say I am not comfortable doing something, please don't try to force me to do it. Just let it go.
If I tell you that I cannot flag down a waiter to ask for my burger to be cooked more, you can encourage me to do it once, but if I still say no, don't push it. I am probably embarrassed enough that I'm not comfortable doing it, you continuously trying to force me to do it will just make me feel like more of failure. Eventually I will be able to do it, it just takes me a little longer than it takes some other people.
7. I have trouble making decisions.
Asking me where I want to eat for dinner or what flavor ice cream I am going to get is an easy question and I can make a choice. But if it is something important like where I want to live next year or what classes I want to take, it is like putting air and water in front of me and asking me to choose which one I wan.
8. Never stop inviting me to things.
Even if I say no 95% of the time, don't stop inviting me. Sometimes my anxiety keeps me from wanting to socialize and that is why I say no to going out a lot, but please keep inviting me. It makes me feel like I am wanted there, and eventually I will be able to say yes and accept your offer.
9. I hold onto and replay every interaction, conversation, and anxiety attack I have ever had and will obsess over it.
Every single anxiety attack is engrained in my brain; where I was, who was there, what I felt, anything I said. I will pick apart conversations I had months ago and find something wrong with them. Before I speak, I either think over what I say ten times before I say it or I don't think at all and say something I shouldn't which I then proceed to pick apart for months to come. So when I say I overthink things, I mean it.
10. When I feel anxious, my senses are heightened.
Sensory overload is a thing and it sucks. Your head swims and everything feels too hot or too cold. Noises feel like someone is taking an icepick to your brain. They can make you feel like the world is spinning, so sometimes I just need to sit alone in silence for a little bit. I have taken ice cold showers to try and shock my system out of anxiety because I feel like I am burning up and can't breathe.
11. Every person experiences anxiety in their own way.
No two people have the same experience with anxiety or any mental illness really. While suggesting things that helped other people you know with their anxiety can be really helpful, don't do it while I am in the middle of having an anxiety attack. It can just aggravate the situation because it's hard to do anything in the moment as it is and hearing about how someone else was able to overcome what I can't just makes me feel worse.
12. Usually there is nothing you can say to make it better, I just need someone to be there with me.
I know you probably look for what to say or do when you are with someone who is anxious or having an anxiety attack, but honestly sometimes the best thing you can do is just be there. Anxiety can make you feel very alone, and even just having someone else in the room with you can ease it a bit.
13. I'm sorry for how I act when I am anxious. Try not to take it personally if I am frustrated or angry.
As I said before, everyone acts differently when they are anxious, but most of us become almost an entirely different person. I shut down and become a cold person; little things will set me off and sometimes I just stare into space to avoid saying things I normally wouldn't. If I do say something to you when I am anxious and it's mean, I probably didn't mean it, it was the anxiety talking. Having anxiety is sometimes a little like having an alter ego and I am often not proud of how that alter ego acts.