Anxiety is not a joke.
I wish it was, really. But it’s not. A lot of people are either unfamiliar with its meaning or with how serious it is.
How do I know? Because I suffer from anxiety myself, and I know how some people could respond to it. Also, because almost 10 years ago, I had no idea that anxiety is a thing. So basically, I can see things from both sides.
Consequently, I believe it’s important to educate ourselves on anxiety. Why? Because some of our close ones might suffer from it or we could possibly develop it at any given time. This is why it’s essential to know what’s happening and how to handle the situation.
According to Psychology Today, “Anxiety is both a mental and physical state of negative expectation. Mentally it is characterized by increased arousal and apprehension tortured into distressing worry, and physically by unpleasant activation of multiple body systems—all to facilitate response to an unknown danger, whether real or imagined.”
They also mention that anxiety is now the leading mental health problem around the world, and to be honest, I’m not surprised. With so much happening in our personal lives and the world, it’s difficult sometimes not to worry or think too much.
But when we are thinking too much or worried, we expect some support, understanding, and a beam of light.
Here’s what we should avoid saying to someone who’s struggling with anxiety:
1. “You’re too sensitive.”
Anxiety is not sensitivity. It’s a sense of impending doom, unsafety, and physical discomfort. Yes, we could be feeling sensitive, but not necessarily when we’re feeling anxious.
2. “It’s all in your head.”
Duh, we know that. We know it’s in our heads, and we know how challenging it is to get out of our heads.
3. “Don’t think about it.”
Anyone who’s familiar with anxiety knows that overthinking is highly linked to it. So telling us not to think about it is like expecting a chicken not to lay eggs.
4. “It’s not a big deal.”
You’re right. Maybe it’s not and maybe it is. But in this particular moment, it is for us. Either way, suffering from anxiety itself is the big deal.
5. “You’re being negative.”
Probably—and we can’t always help it.
6. “It’s not that bad.”
By judging another person’s situation, we’re basically undermining their own feelings and perspective. That’s not cool.
7. “You will get over it.”
Trust me when I tell you that we really want to get over it. But the issue is that we don’t always know how.
I know this is tricky. Oftentimes, we don’t know that we are dealing with someone who is suffering from anxiety. So while we think we are being helpful, our words could cut deeper than a knife edge. Maybe we don’t know the perfect response or how to deal with someone who’s battling with their own heads.
So most of the time, we could be hurting someone without meaning to do it.
Just know that there is no perfect response. But there is a good enough response that could make the sufferer feel safe or better.
Anxiety sucks, but finding comfort in the midst of all its chaos is something to be grateful for. And when that comfort comes from a person, it means the world to us.
Here’s how we can support someone who’s struggling with anxiety:
>> Encourage them to talk about it or express how they’re feeling.
>> Offer your own experience with anxiety if available.
>> Affirm that you are there for them.
>> Ask them how you can help so they feel more comfortable or safe.
>> Remind them or teach them how to focus on their breath or massage themselves when they’re feeling anxious.
>> Remind them that it’s temporary and this too shall pass.
>> Be careful with your choice of words. “It’s only temporary” sounds better than “you will get over it.” Asking “how do you feel?” is better than “you’re too sensitive.”
Let’s remember that anxiety is not a defect—it’s a trait, and it’s normal. So we shouldn’t be ashamed to seek professional help if we’re not able to deal with it on our own.