Let's talk about Anxiety
Here's a list of things you should never ever say to someone with Anxiety Disorder:
1. "I'm worried about you."
This is a tough one, because I know that it comes from a place of caring, but instead of reassuring us, it can have the opposite effect. Here's the thing: You might be worried about us, but this makes us feel patronised and unable to handle our own emotions. We work hard to keep our anxiety in check, and saying something like this can make us feel like all that work is in vain - that we're failing. Be thoughtful and gentle when expressing your concerns.
2. "Stop stressing!"
Stress and anxiety are not the interchangable. Stress manifests itself in nerves and/or frustration - anxiety can bring on a serious sense of panic and fear. Since when did telling someone to "stop" experiencing a feeling or emotion actually help them solve the problem anyway? Asshole.
3. "It's all in your head."
Yes, it is all in my head. Anxiety brains are wired differently to other brains. Anxiety isn't just 'feeling nervous', just because it is "in my head." does not mean it's "in my imagination."
4. "Calm down."
Telling someone with anxiety to remain calm is like telling someone who is paralysed to "get up and walk". It isn't a choice. If we could control our anxiety levels, we would.
5. "Did I do something wrong?"
I guess we can be a little quiet if we're having a bad day. Try not to assume that it's your fault though. While it's natural to worry, when you ask us this, we'll assume that we've upset you - which is the last thing we want. Unless you can think of something that you have said/done which could be upsetting, assume that it's nothing personal and let us come to you.
6. "Just do it."
Let's just clear this up: if I haven't done it, I can't right now. It might be incredibly simple to you. Believe me when I say that there will be things that you can't do so well that I can do - I'm a fucking BOSS - and I will help you without making you feel small about it.
7. "You're overreacting!"
A situation, place, person or idea has triggered my anxiety - it isn't a choice that I've made. I am naturally more sensitive to certain things (e.g. noise) than the average person. Cut me some slack though, it has it's advantages - it also usually means a high level of empathy and effective risk spotting. I might even keep you from harm one day.
8. "It isn't a big deal."
Actually, mate - it is.
Here's a list of things everyone with Anxiety Disorder wishes you would say...
1. "How are you?"
Sometimes people make assumptions about your mood, particularly if your face is bitchily inclined. Asking an open ended question like "how are you?" gives someone the chance to offload if they want to. It also let's someone choose to tell you about their successes OR challenges, depending on their mood.
2. "How can I help?"
Offering help is probably the single most reassuring things you can do. A little bit of anxiety can snowball very quickly into a full on panic, and it's sometimes scary to ask for help. Taking some of that pressure away, by offering to help, really lets me know that you care.
3. "I love you."
Sometimes there really won't be anything you can do to help. Sometimes only I will be able to deal with my demons.
No matter what mood I'm in, I'll always appreciate being told that you love me, that you care about me and that you'll always be there if I need you. You're the best!
4. "You're doing really well."
If you know anything about people who live with Anxiety Disorder/ Panic Disorder, you'll know that it takes up WAY more energy to get anything done than it does for your Average Joe, just knowing that you've noticed how hard I'm working means the world!
5. "You are NOT crazy!"
Here's the thing, as awesome and strong as we are; there will be moments where we doubt our own sanity. Step up - remind us that we're not broken.
6. "I can do that for you."
This is similar to point 2 but there's a distinctive difference: sometimes we'll be overwhelmed by all the things that are on our to-do list. Getting out of bed can be hard, smiling can be hard, staying calm can be difficult. Taking on one of the tasks that seem little to you, but mammoth to us (like going to the post office) can be the difference between a day (or even week) of winning, and not coping as well as we could.
7. "I'll always be here."
Every single time you don't hear us say something - we assume we're being ignored. Every time you are stressed - we assume that you're angry with us.
Rejection is just around the corner in our anxious minds. Telling us that you'll always be there BEFORE we have to ask will keep those fears of abandonment at bay. It's a compliment, we like having you in our lives, losing you is a scary thought - don't let it creep in.
OR: Don't say anything at all, just be there.
Never underestimate the power that a quiet moment with a loved one can have.
When I'm feeling anxious, I'm usually quite open to spending time with the people I love.
I'm also usually actively hoping that something or someone will take my mind off whatever is bothering me.
Here are some suggestions of suggestions you can make,
if you want to be the cutest person in the land:
Dinner. Lunch. Breakfast. Elevenses. Snacks.
A puzzle or game - something to focus on.
A TV show or movie
An article you read about something you know we might like
Spending time with a pet
An audio book or podcast
An interesting fact or story you could tell us
An expedition to a place we can explore together
Always be mindful when talking about people's feelings and emotions. Whether you think someone you love is anxious or not, approaching with kindness, sensitivity and caution is always a good habit to work on.
I Heart you
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