8 Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Anxiety
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If someone opens up to you about their anxiety, it can make you feel like you have to be very careful with what you say to them and the advice that you give.
Even though your intentions are good, this ‘pressure’ can make you accidentally come out with some statements that can be misconstrued and make someone feel worse.
As someone who experienced anxiety and panic attacks over a 4-year period, I have had my fair share of conversations where some not so useful things have been said.
Although I reminded myself that it’s not always easy for others to understand anxiety, there are 8 comments which are probably better to avoid and I’m going to share and explain them with you below.
1. “IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD”
Although an anxiety disorder can be defined as excessive worry in situations where there is no actual imminent threat, the impact goes far beyond.
Anxiety can manifest itself physically where you may have a tight chest, begin to sweat and feel your breathing become shallow.
You have this feeling that you need to escape and don’t feel safe in your surroundings. What used to feel comforting now feels foreign and frightful.
You struggle to sleep, eat, socialise and focus on your work. It affects your whole life and entire way of being.
When I used to get told things like ‘it’s all in your head’, it used to make me feel like my anxiety was not real and therefore, not justified.
2. “I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU ARE SO STRESSED OUT”
Everyone’s stress thresholds are different.
What some may find overwhelming, others find simple and easy. We can’t judge what our family members, friends and peers find challenging.
Anxiety is also something that can hugely influence our ability to focus on the task at hand.
Although I had a demanding job at the time I started to experience anxiety, I always felt comfortable in my role and actually enjoyed the challenges that came with it. However, as my anxiety and panic attacks became more frequent, I started to struggle with my attention span.
This is because when stress hormones are released into our body, our heart rate and breathing speed up and blood is diverted to our limbs rather than our brain. This in turn impairs our perception and intellect.
So, it was rarely the project or upcoming deadline that I found significantly stressful — it was my inability to properly digest and process information (which I usually would have easily been able to do) because of my anxiety.
We never know what someone might be going through, so instead of presuming and perhaps even comparing ‘abilities’, take the time to understand the deeper roots of someone’s stress.
3. “STOP GETTING UPSET”
I have lost count of the number of times I would get told to stop crying.
Even though I knew it came from a good place because others didn’t want to see me upset, it made me feel as though I was weak and not allowed to express myself.
The honest truth is, I wasn’t usually a person who got emotional and when I was anxious, I was upset because I was frustrated. I was so tired of this draining, unpredictable and daunting space I was in.
I would try to hold back my tears but I couldn’t control them. At first, I felt embarrassed but then I started to notice how much lighter I felt after I released my emotions.
It turns out that crying actually has a lot of benefits including:
- Relieving stress
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Removing toxins
- Helping you to embrace your feelings
So, if you ever sense that someone you care about feels emotional because of their anxiety, give them the space and reassurance they need to express themselves.
Crying is not a sign of weakness, sometimes it’s simply needed to feel better.
4. “STOP WORRYING”
I know it’s so easily said, I’ve been guilty of it many times but I’ve come to understand this is such a throw-away comment.
Whenever I was advised to ‘stop worrying’ about my anxiety, I always used to think ‘if could, I would!’.
I think almost every person who is battling anxiety is trying their best to stop worrying but it’s definitely a process, change doesn’t come about overnight. It requires us to dig up what is bothering us deep down, to reflect and to adjust the way we respond to our triggers.
I personally believe that behind all of our anxieties, there is a message. It’s not something we can just switch off and ignore until we confront the real issues.
5. “I’M REALLY WORRIED ABOUT YOU”
Now, I don’t know if anyone experiences this but, when someone tells me they are really worried about me, it makes me feel conscious about the way I am being perceived.
This in turn makes me change my behaviour in order to ‘reassure others’ and so that I don’t feel like what I am dealing with is ‘obvious’.
This can definitely be a hard one to digest because someone saying they are worried about me, makes me feel bad that I’m the reason as to why they feel this way.
6. “JUST DON’T THINK ABOUT IT”
I really wish I could! But anxiety is not something that has an ‘on and off’ button.
Because anxiety is a concept which is based on thoughts and our minds, I think it’s easy to assume we can just ‘forget about it’ and move on. However, anxiety can cause us to have racing thoughts which we cannot control.
My mind has never worked as fast as it did when I had anxiety.
I was constantly monitoring myself and mentally preparing if I were to have a panic attack.
I would always analyse whatever space I was in (whether it be the office, when I was out with friends or commuting) and plan my ‘escape’ if I began to sense my fear coming up to the surface.
I was forever on high alert and extremely aware of my surroundings — it was my coping mechanism to protect myself and hopefully catch my anxiety as soon as it surfaced.
7. “YOU’RE NOT WELL”
This one hurts! I remember just being signed off from my work and being told by someone close to me ‘you need to take care of yourself, you’re really not well’.
It petrified me because I started to believe I was in a worse state than I thought.
It made me feel like I might not bounce back from what I was going through and I started to fixate on the ‘not being well’ part rather than just simply taking it day-by-day.
I became so consumed by the stigma which is attached to mental health and it made me feel like I wasn’t ‘normal’.
8. “IT’S TAKING A LONG TIME FOR YOU TO GET BETTER”
Believe it or not, this was actually said to me by a GP who was trying to make me take medication about 8 months after being signed off from work.
At this point, I was actually feeling 70% better, way more optimistic and like I had control over my anxiety for the first time.
But when I heard this comment, I was devastated — it made me feel like I wasn’t doing a good job, that I wasn’t working hard enough to get better and had made no progress.
I felt down for a few days but then I reflected on how far I had come and it spurred me to go on.
It made me realise that I wasn’t progressing fast enough for their standards and expectations but the truth was that she hadn’t seen everything I had been doing and fighting for.
All I had to listen to were my own standards and expectations.
I know that having conversations about mental health can be difficult, but I do hope this article helps guide you in the right direction.
Keep an eye out for our next article which will be on helpful and useful things to say to someone with anxiety.
If you know someone struggling with anxiety, explore POP’s mental health printable programme which helps you take back control over your thoughts, emotions and goals. The worksheets are simple to follow and work through and you can take it completely at your own pace.