Someone once said to me… “You know what anxiety feels like? Imagine that your brain is a TV and someone else has the remote.”
The truth is… Anxiety can completely overwhelm your body and could your judgment. It is a mental state in which one cannot really think straight. An unpleasant emotional state for which the cause is never really identified. A feeling that cannot be controlled and avoided. That is why oftentimes, helping a friend or a partner who struggles with this issue is considered a pretty difficult and challenging job.
What these people need is compassion and understanding, but what we usually provide them with is quite the opposite. That is the sad reality that most of us realize only after they’ve already done the damage.
So, know this. Even though your heart is in the right place and you wish nothing but happiness for these people, encouraging them that they need to “smile more” and “calm down” can only backfire way worse than you expect.
If you really want to help a person who is struggling with anxiety, here are 10 phrases you must avoid telling them:
1. CALM DOWN
Calming down is the goal. So, if you know any useful methods for relaxing, make sure to share them with your friend. But, please, whatever you decide to do, don’t suggest that they should just calm down. If they could do that now, they would.
2. LIFE IS SHORT TO BE GRUMPY
Yes, life is short. And we all give our best to make the most of it. But saying this to a person who cannot find a way to calm their loud insecurities and control themselves is a bad idea. These people know that there are better ways to live life, so this knowledge hurts them even more.
3. IN A FEW YEARS, YOU WILL LAUGH ABOUT THESE THINGS
This might be true. But don’t you think that saying this to someone who goes through a panic attack means denying their pain and not acknowledging their condition?
Remember. When someone is panicking, they don’t need logic. They need understanding and compassion. The validation that it is okay to feel scared is what helps them go through the pain.
4. IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL, SO DON’T MAKE IT ONE
For them, it is a big deal. Get that in your head! When you say, “It’s not a big deal” to an anxious person, what you actually mean is “stop overreacting”. That is how it sounds and that is how the anxious mind interprets it. Instead, try “I know it is difficult, but I am here to help you”.
5. IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
Yes, all of their thoughts and fears come from their confused minds, but that doesn’t mean that you should neglect their emotions. Their emotions are real, regardless of how much you believe in them. So, when a person is having anxious thoughts, the only thing that can help them is a reminder that those thoughts are natural. Instead of blaming them that it’s all in their head, try to make them understand that acceptance is the first step to growth.
6. THINGS CAN BE A LOT WORSE
Statements like this trigger guilt and self-hate. And you can probably guess what comes next. A hurricane of anxiety attacks. If you want to help someone who struggles with anxiety, shaming them is not the way to do it.
7. YOU HAVE TO BE MORE POSITIVE
Let’s be more realistic. No one is positive all of the time. So, telling someone to be more positive is suggesting that they should pretend to be fine when really, they aren’t. Instead of forcing them to miraculously become more positive, show these people what it looks like to be positive. Love them for who they are and help them overcome the obstacles.
8. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH FRIENDS
I know this sounds like the right thing to do when a person feels sad and alone, but sometimes not even friends can soothe this pain. So, when someone with anxiety wishes to be left alone, let them be. I know you’d give everything to take that pain away from them, but you are not that powerful.
9. JUST SUCK IT UP AND MOVE ON
Having anxiety is bad enough as it is. Sucking it up is not the right way to overcome the pain. Saying this is implying that an anxious person is a coward who cannot take responsibility for their behavior.
10. YOU ARE OVERANALYZING AGAIN
That is the very nature of this disorder. Pointing out the obvious in the middle of a panic attack will not make it better. Only worse. Do your best to never minimize or invalidate someone’s struggle with anxiety. They are not overreacting, they are coping.