For most people, anxiety is a normal emotion that they feel before taking a big exam, starting a game, or asking someone out on a date. It’s similar to nervousness. It’s those butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, or a slight stutter. But for people with an anxiety disorder, anxiety takes on a life of its own.
For someone with an anxiety disorder, any normal, everyday situation is a matter of life or death. To anyone who thinks it’s okay to tell someone with an anxiety disorder that they are just “overreacting,” I hope you realize how much worse you’re making it by invalidating their feelings. It’s not okay to act like someone's feelings are a joke. It may seem silly to you but to someone with anxiety, there is legitimate cause for concern. We’re not joking, we’re not overreacting, and we’re not being silly. For you to think that is simply ignorant.
While someone with normal levels of anxiety might only be anxious at certain moments, for people like me who suffer from anxiety disorders, anxiety is constant. There is always a baseline level of anxiety and certain things may make that level spike.
Let me try to show you the difference between what goes through most people’s heads versus my own.
Here’s the situation: we’re texting. All of the sudden you stop texting back. Now, most people just assume that something came up and the other person is busy. Maybe they’ll send another text to get the person’s attention but other than that it is a non-issue. While this logical thought will cross my mind, a much bigger part of me truly thinks something terrible has happened to you. Sure, maybe you’re at the grocery store and can’t reply right now but also what if you just got in a car crash or someone is hurting you or you fell down the stairs and broke your neck or something? It’s like having a million worst-case scenarios in your head at once in the span of 0.5 seconds.
Everything is life-or-death when you have an anxiety disorder. Some days, normal activities are just a good way to die for someone like me. The type of anxiety I have interferes with my daily life. It stops me from functioning in the real world sometimes. It is the type that causes this all-encompassing paralyzing fear that stops me from going to class. It’s the type that twists my stomach in knots to the point where I can’t eat because I’m physically sick. It is the type that creates so much panic and confusion in my head that I end up leaving tests completely blank.
So what do you do for someone who has terrible anxiety?
First of all, DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, ACT LIKE THEY’RE BEING SILLY OR STUPID FOR BEING ANXIOUS. We already have this constant fear that everyone thinks we’re stupid and unreasonable human beings and we don’t need you adding to that.
If someone with anxiety asks you to go with them to do something, just do it. Yes, it’s kind of annoying but we wouldn’t ask unless we needed you.
We tend to need to be told things over and over because our anxiety rules out rational thought. You can never ever tell us, “I like you," or "You’re not annoying," or "I’m here for you," or "You matter," or "We can go together,” too many times.
Yes, we are kind of needy, anxious people. But we also have this really awesome ability to validate and understand other people’s feelings no matter how rational they are or are not being. Just be patient with us.
If you are someone who struggles with severe anxiety, please get help. There is no reason to suffer and no reason for you to miss out on the amazing things that life has to offer. Medication might be the answer, but not always. Talk to a professional. You don’t have to struggle with anxiety alone.