Everyone knows anxiety in some form or another.... Whether it's the nerves that accompany a first date or the fear that washes over you right before a big performance. Typically, the wave creeps in, peaks, and then eventually subsides.
Your friend, your brother, your colleague says, "I'm feeling anxious", and so you assume it is that same sensation of nagging nervous energy you've experienced before. You know the feeling and therefore it’s easy enough to shrug off with a short platitude of
“Don’t worry everything is fine”
“Yeah, I know how you feel.”
Maybe there are times you think they are being so dramatic or you ask yourself, why are they blowing things out of proportion, and you respond with something like…
"There's nothing to be upset about…"
"It's not that bad"
"You're freaking out about nothing"
You encourage them to just relax or take some deep breaths. Try to calm down.
But what about the kind of anxiety that doesn't just go away after the trigger passes?
I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that keeps you up at night with such severe insomnia that you don't even remember the last time you had a good night's rest. The kind that rattles your brain with its incessant chatter and doesn't relent even when you are so burnt out and exhausted you can barely make it through the day. The anxiety that has you thinking 'She definitely hates me’ or 'why did I say that…what an idiot’ Better yet, the type that makes you feel as though you are absolutely, without a doubt, certifiably LOSING IT…
If you are not familiar with this particular kind of torment, count yourself lucky. Those who struggle with clinical anxiety (e.g. generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, etc.) aren't usually able to just shut it off or find a quick fix, no matter how much they want to (and believe me they do).
Moreover, your attempt to be positive or talk them out of it, though well intentioned, can actually be more harmful than helpful. Their symptoms are very real. An internal tug-of-war wages throughout their mind and body, wreaking complete havoc on the nervous system. The crazy part… you may not even know it. The internal chaos doesn’t always reflect outwardly, meaning someone seemingly appears fine, yet they feel anything but.
So although not outright mean or glaringly harsh, statements like just breathe or it'll pass, don't think about it, turn out to be pretty useless. For starters, they minimize and dismiss your loved one's true experience. For them, the anxiety isn’t just a small mountain to be overcome. It’s a howling, raging storm with seemingly no end in sight.
Beyond that, such comments can effectively shame them for feelings that are almost entirely out of their control, not only amplifying the anxiety but forcing them to then hide or mask it in the future.
Individuals struggling with clinical anxiety are often working extremely hard just to make it through their day. The best thing that you can give them is your support. The next time your loved one is feeling anxious, try to meet them with empathy and understanding, ask how you can help instead of assuming you know what to do, and lastly, believe them when they say, "this is really hard."
Check back for more detailed tips on how to help your loved one through anxiety!
Please contact The Mynd Clinic if you are looking for genuine support in managing and treating anxiety.