According to The National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. It comes with trying to deal with stressors constantly. However, if you or someone you know suffers from an anxiety disorder, their "everyday" anxiety is much different. For these people, their anxiety often doesn't go away; instead, it can get progressively worse.
I suffer from an anxiety disorder, and I know just how hard various situations can be when dealing with anxiety. I even wrote an article about my day-to-day battles last year. So now, I thought I'd compile a list of things that someone who suffers from anxiety doesn't ever want to hear.
1. "I totally understand because I have been feeling stressed too."
Anxiety, or feeling anxious, is completely different than feeling stressed. Yes, it can increase the sense of stress someone may be feeling, but there really is no way to compare the two. It's like comparing a paper cut to a stab wound.
2. "Just calm down and relax."
Well great! Thank you for that wonderful piece of advice... For someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, it's not that easy. Sometimes this phrase will even create more anxious thoughts because the person will feel an increased need to try and feel calm without knowing how to get there.
3. "Come on, just go out with us. It'll be fun!"
Yes, it may be fun, and someone who struggles with anxiety may want to go out and have fun, but it is not that simple. We may look forward to it, but once we get there (if we are that lucky), we are preoccupied with what others are thinking. We feel as if everyone is analyzing what we are doing and saying, and some even feel like they are being judged. Social interactions with others may make anxiety increase instead of actually helping relieve it.
4. "Stop overthinking it."
Often times anxiety comes from feeling like we're out of control or don't have the answers we need. We often overthink all parts of life: what color shirt we should wear, why that person didn't smile at us, if we sounded mean in that text. We try to stop overthinking but then we overthink that too.
5. "Are you okay?"
Unless you are extremely close with the person, this can be a catch-22 question to ask. People who struggle with anxiety want to say they are not okay, but they don't know how. They feel ashamed or "stupid" for how they are feeling, so they will tell you they are okay even if they aren't. They feel like they're confessing their feelings and that they won't be understood.
6. "You are so clingy."
Those with anxiety often feel the need to feel reassured, which can make their behavior seem "clingy." Once we find someone who sticks around with us, we feel the need to keep them close. Don't mistake these behaviors for something they aren't. We all have good intentions -- even if it doesn't seem that way.
7. "Stop acting crazy."
Honestly, it's just disrespectful to say this to anyone, but especially to someone who suffers from anxiety. It is completely normal for those with anxiety to also struggle with depression, anger, sadness, stress, fear of abandonment, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. We already feel as if we are an outsider because nobody understands how we are feeling, so highlighting the fact that we are acting "crazy" will only make us feel more alone
8. "Take a chill pill."
First of all, update your phrase for this millennium. Second of all, many people who have chronic anxiety do have to take "chill pills" --- you know, prescribed medication to help them move through their daily lives. Admitting this can be very embarrassing for some of us, so try not to make a joke out of it.
9. "Stop making a big deal out of this."
Unfortunately, anxiety makes things seem worse than they really are. It may make us look like we're constantly overreacting, but we really do feel like everything is out of control. We're overthinking every aspect of the situation because we feel the need to fix every aspect of the situation.
10. "You're being ridiculous."
Someone struggling with anxiety may actually know what they are feeling or doing is not rationale. However, sometimes their reaction to the situation is completely out of their control due to actual chemical imbalances in their brain. Telling someone they're being ridiculous will not help them calm down. Their actions may change to please you in the moment, but this will just increase the feelings of shame they're already experiencing.
11. "What's wrong with you?"
Everything. Anxiety can make you feel like every single thing is wrong, and there is nothing you can do about it. Don't ask this question in a mocking manner either. It is similar to asking someone why they are mad when you are the reason they are mad. Just don't it.
12. "It's all in your head."
It doesn't matter if you believe in anxiety or not. What you believe and are feeling will not change what someone is experiencing when they have anxiety or if they are having an anxiety attack. This phrase can make someone feel as if they are being completely irrational, and it may make some feel "crazy."
13. "Don't worry about it."
Telling someone to not do something will not magically make that person not do that behavior anymore. You see, an individual with anxiety does really wish they could stop worrying about every little thing, but it has become second nature them... a sixth sense, if you will. Telling someone with anxiety to not worry about it is similar to telling a mother to stop loving her children.
14. "You seem fine to me."
Most cancer patients seem perfectly fine and healthy too -- before their cancer starts to show obvious signs and symptoms. You see, just like cancer, anxiety is always lurking beneath the surface. Just because someone does not show any signs of an external physical disability does not mean they are not struggling. Many people with anxiety have found ways to try and hide their body's response to the anxiety they are experiencing. This internalization often increases anxiety because the person will focus so much on hiding the anxiety they will feel as if everyone is noticing what is going on "inside" if they don't.
15. "Just think happy thoughts instead."
Many people with anxiety also experience depression, and if they do not, they can often feel unhappy for no reason. Anxiety is exhausting, due to the amount of thoughts and fear running through one's mind. Your body is constantly stuck in what feels like "survival mode." By telling someone with anxiety to "just think happy thoughts instead," you make them feel as if their thoughts are wrong. How can you tell someone to completely change their thoughts when you can't actually hear them yourself?
To be mindful of your peers struggling with anxiety, you first have to know what symptoms you're looking for. Pay attention to sudden increases in feelings of panic or fear; feelings of being "out of control;" fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past; feeling very self-conscious in front of other people and worried about feeling humiliated, embarrassed or rejected; fearful of offending others; worrying for days or weeks before an event where other people will be; feeling highly anxious about being with other people and having a hard time talking to them; feeling as if there is an "elephant" on your chest when talking to others or even during day-to-day activities; being easily fatigued; sleep problems and mood swings.
And if you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety, there are plenty of support groups and resources to help you. A few are listed below.
National Mental Health Association Hotline
Crisis Call Center
800-273-8255 or text ANSWER to 839863
National Hopeline Network/Suicide
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.