I know you want to be supportive and helpful, but there are certain things you can’t understand about what it’s like living with anxiety unless you’ve experienced it yourself. All I really need is for someone to listen to me and accept my emotions, no matter how illogical or intense they might seem — and I most definitely don’t want to hear any of these things:
“You should get out more.” Most of the time, I feel overwhelmed by social situations and putting myself out there. While it’s good to find some distractions, I don’t want to be forced into doing something. It should be my choice to do something outside of my comfort zone, nobody else’s.
“I get stressed out too.” Stress and anxiety are two completely different things. Everyone in the world feels stressed at some point, but not everyone suffers from crippling anxiety. Comparing my chronic disorder to your work problems will not help me. It’ll just feel like you’re trying to diminish what I’m going through.
“It’s not a big deal.” It may not seem like a big deal to others, but inside my head, it’s a huge deal. Anxiety is consuming and constant. It affects pretty much every aspect of my life. While it’s treatable and by no means hopeless, it needs to be taken seriously and treated like a medical disorder–because it is one. You wouldn’t look at someone with diabetes and say, “It’s no big deal, just eat less sugar!”
“Just chill out.” I don’t know about you, but whenever someone tells me to “chill out,” I do the exact opposite, even if I was chill to begin with! Nothing is more infuriating than trying to vent about something and you’re simply told to “chill out.” It feels condescending and dismissive, even if that’s not the intention. Women with anxiety can’t just force themselves to become calm. If I could, don’t you think I’d have done that already?
“Have a drink.” Doctors, therapy, and medication are the recommended treatment for anxiety, not alcohol. Self-medicating with liquor, even if it starts as a glass of wine to take the edge off, is a dangerous and destructive road. You could be encouraging an eventual drinking problem in addition to an anxiety disorder.
“Everything will be fine.” Obviously if I thought everything was going to be fine, I wouldn’t be panicking about it. Anxiety doesn’t always need a “cause” either. Sometimes it’s just the general feeling that nothing is right and everything is frightening, even if there’s no immediate trigger. Anxiety also creates illusions and distorts things, creating negative feelings out of something ordinary. Someone else saying it’ll be OK isn’t enough to combat this.
“You’re lucky — others have it worse.” A lot of anxiety-sufferers carry a lot of guilt, so this just makes me feel worse. Of course, there’s always somebody having a worse day. Everybody knows that. Just because I’m anxious doesn’t mean I’m ungrateful. Reminding me of someone else’s sorrow seriously increases my anxiety, because in addition to guilt, I worry if that could happen to me. It’s also important to remember that feelings aren’t a competition. Nobody would see a happy person and tell them, “Yeah, but other people have it better than you.”
“It’s all in your head.” Just because anxiety is a mental issue doesn’t mean it’s not real. On some level, I might know my thoughts are irrational, but that doesn’t make them go away. Saying this also trivializes what I’m feeling and makes it seem “fake.” Anxiety feels real and immediate, so telling someone it’s “in their head” will come across as dismissive and insulting. It doesn’t feel that different than being called crazy. Anxiety can also cause very physical symptoms, like throwing up or fainting–are those just in my head, too?
“Is this my fault?” No, it’s not. Don’t involve yourself in my anxiety, because 99 percent of the time, it’s not about you. An anxiety disorder isn’t anybody’s fault. But if you start blaming yourself, it’ll just make me feel guilty, because I don’t want you to do that. Anxiety-sufferers worry about their loved ones enough as it is. I doesn’t need to worry that others are blaming themselves for my disorder.
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