We all have someone in our lives who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. A family member, a friend, our partner… When you are not dealing with anxiety, it is not easy to see things from the other person’s perspective. We are not born with the tools to deal with this, we learn to recognize the symptoms and deal with them as we experience them. But are we really helping our loved one who is suffering from anxiety? Sometimes when we think we are helping we might be making the complete opposite and unintentionally cause the situation get worse. None of us would want that of course. So how do we approach to someone with anxiety? Knowing what not to say, is a good start. Here are 11 things you should never say to someone with anxiety:
1. It’s all in your head.
Actually it is not. Scientific researches show that disorders like general anxiety, depression, panic attacks are caused by hormonal imbalances in our brains. It is a chemical imbalance and has nothing to do with someone’s personality or ability or the lack of ability to cope with situations.
2. Calm down, you always stress too much!
Anxiety is not caused by stressful situations. It can be triggered by them but one can be perfectly fine one moment and the next minute they can go into a full blown anxiety attack. To an outsider, this is a mystery as they try to figure out what could have possibly happened to cause such an attack.
3. It’s not a big deal, stop overreacting.
By telling this to someone with anxiety, you are not helping them, instead you are making them feel worse, because they think they are doing something wrong. This only increases their anxiety as they hopelessly try and find a way to cope with it.
4. Just try to sleep and everything will be fine.
During an anxiety attack, a person’s heart rate goes high. Most of the time, laying down makes the situation worse as they feel their heart beat in their throat quite frankly. The tightness and heaviness they feel in their chest might get worse when they lay down. Some people actually feel better when they move around to the pace of their hearts until they physically get tired and the attack slowly fades away.
5. There is nothing to be afraid of you can do it!
An encouragement that will fall on deaf ears. There is no way you can convince someone with anxiety that they could do it only if they were not chickening out of something. This could be a social situation, which is known as social anxiety, a phobia they need to overcome, a simple task for you but it requires a lot of effort for them.. Do not force them to be in your own shoes or expect them to think like you. When you approach a person this way, you only validate their fear and anxiety by making them feel lesser and guilty for not having enough courage. The fact is, it is beyond their control.
6. Did I do something wrong?
No, you did not, and it is not about you anyway. Please do not give them one more thing to worry about and make them feel bad for making you feel bad. Yes, you have all the good intentions when you ask this question but it doesn’t go the way you think it will. So beware.
7. I have been through this too, I know exactly how you feel.
Unless you really know how it feels, do not try to empathize with them this way. They are having an anxiety attack but they are not stupid, you can not fool someone by showing empathy when you can’t really relate.
8. You have no reason to be anxious, there are people who have worse lives than you.
Ouch! That burns. Of course there are people and situations that are in much worse conditions but each individual is unique and they want to feel that way too. The last thing someone with anxiety needs is someone else making them feel like they are not important enough or their problems or conditions are not important enough. A person who suffers from anxiety is not acting in a way that makes them seek more attention because they are self centered. On the contrary, they do not want to be the center of attention at all because it makes them feel much worse. By comparing people and situations you minimize their physical problem.
9. I’m stressed out too!
Great, now it makes two of you. What you are trying to say when you say that is “hey look at me, I am as stressed as you are but I am not acting like a fool”. The message that goes across only tells them they are weaker for the way they feel and act. It is not a good place to be. Please do not try to compare yourself and the way you handle the situations to their medical condition.
10. Try to think of something nice and don’t focus on anxiety right now.
This is sort of like giving a toy to a crying toddler to distract them so they stop crying. In real life, when someone is having an anxiety attack they can not control it and they can’t simply snap out of it and focus on something entirely different. With your suggestion, they will panic even more because they won’t know what else to focus on.
11. Everything will be fine, don’t worry.
Well, of course, once the attack is under control that is. But it doesn’t give the much anticipated reassurance one needs during the attack. Instead of saying this just let them go through what they are going through.
The best way you can help them is by just trying to listen to them and let them describe their situation. And sometimes, silence is golden and a long warm hug says so much more than words. Because it makes them feel loved, accepted and not alone.