Don't Say This to Someone with Anxiety

Jason Weiland

Choose your words carefully if you want to help

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For as long as I can remember, people will tell me silly things when they find out I struggle with anxiety. Whether they mean it or not, some of their comments are downright hurtful. Yes, I am overly sensitive, but so are millions and millions of others.

I don’t think most people are trying to be hurtful. Most people have good intentions; they just don’t know the right thing to say at the right time.

Don’t you wish you could tell everyone what you should and shouldn’t say to someone with anxiety?

I do.

Things We Shouldn’t Say to Someone with Anxiety

We all have a list of things people say that make us cringe. Call it a pet peeve or something else, but there are certain things people have said that I wish no one will ever say again.

“Anxiety is for suckers!”

Believe it or not, someone said this to me. To my face! I was in college at the time, talking with a group of my friends about anxiety, and a guy who none of us particularly liked walked up and said this — followed by, “I never have anxiety. I’m better than that!” I was so dumbfounded that I stared at him with my mouth open. Thankfully, I didn’t draw flies.

“Get over it already!”

When my symptoms got to be a daily occurrence, my first wife wondered out loud why I couldn’t just forget about my anxiety. She eventually learned that I had no control over it, but she never liked it.

I’ve heard many over the years in the media wonder why we can’t stop our anxiety at will, like flipping a switch. Don’t you think if it were that easy, we would have figured it out by now?

“Try to calm down!”

I love my mom, but she always feels like she wants to have the answer to fix everything wrong with me. When she told me to calm down, I smiled and hugged her.

“Why don’t you smoke some weed/have a drink?”

I hear this on the internet all the time, and although I have used cannabis for my anxiety in the past, I understand the dangers of self-medication. Some people don’t. People also use this when they tell you to meditate or do yoga. These are much better options, but still not a lot of help for me.

“Suck it up!”

A work friend told me this when I said I needed to go outside and de-stress. Guys often do this to each other, usually followed up by, “Be a man!”

“You have a great life. You have nothing to worry about!”

I don’t hear this as often anymore, but people used to tell me this a lot when I would confide in them about problems with money or my marriage. I hope people figure out that anxiety has nothing to do with what you have or how great your life is. Anxiety can strike anyone, rich or poor, happy or sad.

“My sisters-boyfriend’s-cousin has that. I totally know what you’re going through.”

If you have any type of mental illness, someone they know always has it worse, and “they are handling it better than you!” The hardest thing to do in this situation is not to let your eyes roll all the way back in your head and stay there forever.

“You know it’s all in your head.”

Yes, I know, Felica, but that doesn’t make it any better. I know I hate this one most of all because they assume that just because they can’t see an illness, you don’t have one. A lady I didn’t know once told me this gem as I was on my way into my therapist’s office. Thanks for nothing, lady!

Why We Say the Things We Do

I guess I shouldn’t get angry, because there could be a very good reason why a person says the things they do. I have to tell myself all the time that I don’t know what is going on in another’s persons head so I shouldn’t judge.

Maybe my telling them that I have anxiety made them uncomfortable and they don’t know how to respond. Maybe these people don’t know the meaning of empathy, and they are trying their best to react appropriately.

Maybe, they believe all the stigma that surrounds a person battling mental illness, and they need some education.

You never know.

What We Should Say to Someone with Anxiety

Again, your list may differ, but for me, there are only a few things I would like people to say to me in response to my anxiety. Honestly, most people I confide in know me very well and know what to say to make me feel better.

“Are you OK?”

It seems simple, but sometimes we want someone to acknowledge that they know we are feeling bad. I like to hear this, especially from my wife, because it shows she’s paying attention.

“You are not being silly!”

If someone with anxiety asks you if they are being a big baby, or are being silly, please don’t say yes. And, don’t follow your comment with, “Suck it up. Be a man!”

One of the best things you can do is reassure us that our complaints are valid, and we have every right to protest. We don’t want to feel like we are stupid.

“How can I help?”

Never assume you know how to fix our anxiety. If there is anything you should do to help, who best to tell you than us? We’ve been overthinking this for a long time already and may even have come up with answers of our own.

We may not have the strength to help ourselves, so it’s best if you ask us.

“No matter what you are going through, I love you and will always be here for you.”

I know I can leave this here without any comment. It speaks for itself.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”― Corrie Ten Boom

It’s hard not to get angry when faced with someone who says something stupid or offensive. It’s especially hard to deal with considering the pain you are going through. If you can, try to see that this person is probably not trying to upset you. They may not know how to act around you, or they need to be shown how to use a little empathy.

Sometimes it’s hard to be the better person, but getting your panties in a bunch will not help your situation one bit.

Remember that no matter what we are battling, other people have struggles of their own and need our understanding.

It’s a hard thing to do but at least try.

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Writer and advocate interested in mental health, health, family, culture, creativity, and success.

Los Angeles, CA
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