How to Talk to Someone With Anxiety

Hey lovelies! I hope you are all having a wonderful day. And if not, that’s ok too. I’m deciding to kind of re-vamp this blog and post a lot more, as writing is a good creative outlet for me, as well as a tool I can use to cope with my anxiety. I’ve suffered from General Anxiety Disorder as well as Panic Disorder for most of my life. Having struggled with it for so long, I’ve gotten a variety of responses from people when I tell them about it. Some people have been helpful, and others not so much. It’s not your fault if you don’t have experience with anxiety, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but don’t be blatantly ignorant. Panic attacks are a real thing. Anxiety is a very real disorder that affects millions of people every day. It can be debilitating, like in my case, and it can get in the way of accomplishing even the smallest of tasks. Because of the disordered brain chemistry, unharmful stimuli are recognized as a danger. It is NOT the anxious person’s fault. I’ve included a list of statement below that are very invalidating, whether you said them with good intentions or not.

My aunt knew about my mental health history from my father, yet she had the audacity to accuse me of faking all of it for attention. She completely invalidated everything I have been fighting against for so long in one single comment. It crushed me, knowing someone that I trusted thought my hospitalization and super expensive meds and PTSD attacks and years of therapy were all because I so desperately needed to be in the spotlight. Don’t be my aunt.

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Just don’t be stressed!

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Oh my God. I never thought of that! You cured me. You wouldn’t go up to someone with a broken leg and tell them to just get up and walk, so why would you tell someone having a panic attack to just stop being stressed? It’s not helpful. What you can do, though, is listen to them. I know when I’m panicking, I have my own thoughts telling me I’m crazy and overreacting. It does not help at all to hear that from an outside source. What we don’t need is your “reality check.” What we need is to be heard, to be validated. Saying stuff like “I’m sorry. That must be really difficult for you” and “I hear ya, girl” is simple but powerful. 

Oh my God, I can relate because I lost my phone charger and I literally had a panic attack over it oh my God…

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Hold it right there. I get that you’re trying to relate, but if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, you really don’t know what we’re talking about. Everyone experiences stress to some degree, yes, but you don’t know exactly what we’re going through. It’s like if you went up to someone who never has enough to eat and said, “Oh my God. I can totally related to your starvation because I remember when I missed dinner that one time…” A more helpful thing to do would ask them, “Is there anything I can do for you right now?”. Right now, it’s not about you. They’re having an overwhelming problem, and it needs to be addressed. You can talk about your first world problems during girl time, not panic attack time.

Why do you care so much?/ It’s not a big deal.

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Saying this is wrong. What’s important to them may not be important to you (and vice versa), but that’s okay. It doesn’t have to match your logic because it’s not your story. It’s theirs. The point is, you need to get past the “arbitrary” situation and be a good friend/neighbor/coworker whatever. You can help out by asking what’s wrong and if they want to talk about it. Chances are, they do. And then you’ll find out why they care and why it’s a big deal. And also, you may not know the whole story, so who are you to pass judgement?

Are you sure you’re not just faking it?

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I’m sorry, but do you think I want to be crying in public right now? If I was faking it, I’d be telling you that I’m fine. It’s so, so incredibly rude and invalidating to just accuse someone of faking a panic attack or faking their anxiety. Sometimes that happens, but most of the time, this person is having a genuine crisis. If I wanted attention, I would perform in a talent show; I wouldn’t be hyperventilating in a corner. It takes literally two seconds to offer a hug or a caring smile. It’s not that hard to do.

Just Breathe

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I get what you’re trying to do. Taking a few deep breaths is a great coping skill. One that I learned early-on in therapy is called “Square Breathing,” where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and hold for four seconds. It really works! However, being short with someone and telling them to “just breathe” and “get over it” really doesn’t help. It’s invalidating to ask someone to hold their emotions in and not address them as they come up (it can also lead to physiological discomfort). A good thing that you can do is just calmly sit with the person who is anxious and reassure them that what they feel is okay and that they’re doing the best they can, and deep breathe with them. 

I hope this post helped! I’m not trying to bash you if you don’t have anxiety, and I know a lot of people without anxiety are very sympathetic to those that do suffer from it. I wrote this mainly for people who have had little to no exposure to mental health related issues, or the people who are ignorant to the point of being offensive, like my aunt or my high school health teacher. Comment below if you, too, suffer from anxiety and if you, too, have heard B.S. like this. You’re not alone.

xxmaddy

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