What not to say to someone with anxiety

Mental health is one of the most important aspects of our life that is most likely neglected. Unlike physical health, the deterioration of the mind is harder to recognize because it is still not talked about in society. Sadly, in this century, the rising number of mental health-related illnesses should create a wake-up call that we should do something about it. According to the world statistical data, there are about 275 million people worldwide that are experiencing anxiety disorders. This is quite an alarming number, about 4% of the world’s population. 

All of us experience nervousness or anxiousness as part of our daily lives. However, people with anxiety disorders experience more than the usual. They experience intense feelings that sometimes result in a panic that may interfere with their daily lives. It is a tough experience for the people who have the disorder, but it is also hard for the people around them. It can be both mentally draining to both parties. A misunderstanding causes mental drainage. It is hard to penetrate what is inside each person’s thought process. What we need here is to be educated about each other’s situation. 

Ignorance of the situation could lead to hurtful complications and would end up being wrong. For example, a lack of understanding even though heartfelt leads to saying what is not supposed to be said to a person with an anxiety disorder. This would further complicate their thought process without the person uttering those words knowing what is going. Here will be words to say to a person with anxiety. This might not mean the same to everyone, but it would be the safest thing to say for understanding.

“It is not a big deal.” 

When we say these words, we are invalidating the feelings of a person. We are somewhat implying that their anxiety is not a big deal. We are really facing different battles. What is worrying for you, might be worrying for them, or vice versa. The thing is a person with anxiety is aware that their thoughts might get irrational or extreme. In controlling their feelings, it takes a huge amount of their energy. That is just how anxiety affects them. They cannot control what to worry about and what to be anxious about.

“Stop worrying.”

A person with anxiety would most likely want to stop worrying. But they just cannot do things they want especially when they are panicking. It is not their choice to worry about something, that is what anxiety is. Worrying has become involuntary. So instead of ordering them to something they are not in control of, try validating their feelings. “It is normal to feel that way. You have come this far, and this too, you can overcome it. I believe in you.”

“You need to calm down.”

This might look like a pop title track, but this is something you might avoid saying to a person with anxiety. Basically, in nerve-wracking situations, we need to calm down. But to a person with anxiety, they know they need to calm down. they just find it hard to do so. With you repeating what to do is annoying and might stir up some thoughts. So instead of saying these words, you try to embody what is calm. Lower done your tone and speak gently. Both of you need to take a deep breath. Lead yourselves to serenity. 

Just breathe”

Breathing exercises can help lighten the feelings the best when calm. It can help control anxiety if done routinely. Reminding a person to have breathing exercises is good for them. But during moments of panic, it is hard to shift a fast breathing pattern to a slower one. Saying “just breathe” would add spark to the flame. Try to model breathing. Slow down your own breath. Do it gently.

Everything is just in your head.”

Everything is all up in our heads. People with anxiety are very aware of that. But that does not make their struggle less real. It eliminates the concept of anxiety and practically tells them that anxiety is just imaginary. Make them feel that their struggle is valid. Help them interact and appreciate the things around them. 

“Other people have it worse.”

This is the epitome of invalidity. This is one of the reasons why people with mental conditions opt not to seek help. Society is basically not open-minded about mental health issues. It creates a sense of guilt within a person with anxiety by saying people have it worse. We should know that anxiety needs to be dealt with as it prohibits a person from doing everyday things without being anxious or nervous about it.  

“You should try meditation/yoga.”

While meditation and yoga or other breathing exercises have eased a lot of people with anxiety that does not mean it eases ALL. Anxiety varies from person to person. It will be hard to give them unsolicited advice for it may not work on them. Instead, offer your help. They may know what is best for them to relieve the feeling. Let them know that you are there to help them with anything.

“I know how you feel.”

First, you really do not know unless you also have anxiety. People with anxiety have a complexity of thoughts that prohibits them to control their nervousness or anxiousness. People without it would not really understand their situation. 

“Get over it.”

A person with anxiety is not in control of how they feel. That is how the disorder affects them. Telling them to get over something they are suffering is not going to be helpful. It is like telling someone with asthma to get over with their asthma. It is a health issue. Instead, help them and be with their healing journey. 

It is important to develop a sense of understanding for everyone. Especially to those who need it. Healing takes a lot of time. We need to be patient with those suffering from anxiety. We are not doctors who can treat them but through our compassion, we can be there for them. We can make them comfortable and hopefully take away the stigma that drives them to hide.

For more information about this topic, check out these awesome articles:

9 Things Not to Say to Someone With Anxiety by Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN

10 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has Anxiety by Gillian Brown

What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone with Anxiety by McKenna Princing

Also, you might want to watch this video by Psych2Go :

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