What NOT to say to someone with anxiety

Artist and marketing guru Pip Crisp knows what it’s like to be inside the mind of someone experiencing anxiety – so she also knows how frustrating it can be to be told to just “calm down”. Pip offers her personal perspective on how to help friends or family members communicate with others going through the same thing. 

You've probably got the best intentions. Whether you’re a sister, friend or partner of someone who has anxiety, it’s likely that you really care and want to say something helpful. But if you haven’t experienced true anxiety for yourself, it’s hard to understand it. Here are 10 things to avoid saying to someone with anxiety. 

1. 'Snap out of it / get over it.'

Hearing the words 'snap out of it' is incredibly frustrating at the best of times, let alone when you have anxiety. Learning how to cope and manage anxiety takes time. It's no different than any other physical condition you need to manage or recover from. It's like telling someone to 'snap out' of diabetes or a gluten intolerance. It just doesn’t work like that.

2. 'Anxiety isn't a real thing.'

In fact, it is. You may not have experienced it and you may not see it like other health conditions - but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Take some time to read up on anxiety so you have a better understanding of how common it is and who it can affect. 

3. 'You're crazy / mental.'

I think that people with anxiety are often hyper aware of their every movement, thought and physical reaction. In fact, they are perhaps too in-contact with reality. The truth is, when I was experiencing anxiety I genuinely felt like I was going crazy, and having someone say those words to me really reinforced my negative mindset.

4. 'Calm down.'

Saying this could exacerbate a situation. Someone with anxiety may be feeling breathless, sweaty or confused. Trust me, they would love to be able to calm down. Anxiety can be irrational and trying to regain control over your thoughts, clarity and body is difficult. There's no 'on' or 'off' switch. 

5. 'Did I do something wrong?'

Anxiety disorders stem from something more complicated than just one particular incident. The chances are, you've done nothing wrong. This question can add an additional layer of worry to someone already fraught with anxiety. Now, they may feel the need to look after you too, or they may feel guilty at not having treated you the way you expected. 
balloons covering someone's head
6. 'You're toxic.'

Anyone with anxiety is likely to already experience poor self-esteem, lack of confidence and a degree of self-hate. This type of comment will only reinforce what they may already believe themselves to be, potentially causing great hurt.

7. 'It's all in your head.'
 
Let's bust this myth once and for all. Anxiety can be a whole body experience. I have experienced sweating, tingling limbs, numbness, nausea, shaking and a feeling of impending doom - to name a few. It’s overwhelming. My mind seems to control my body and vice versa, and it feels like either one can trigger the other.
 
8. 'All you need is a good night’s sleep.'
 
A good night's sleep won't cure cancer. Nor does it cure anxiety. Rest is important, along with a healthy balanced diet and lots of exercise - but unfortunately there's more to recovery than a bit of shut-eye. It might involve years of therapy, possibly medication, support from friends and loved ones, and gritty determination.
 
9. 'I get anxious too.'
 
Being anxious or feeling stressed is different to having anxiety. While momentary nerves before a big meeting has purpose and is quite natural, it's different from a crippling fear that prevents you from walking out your front door for a month.
 
10. 'You have to come to this.'
 
Don't pressure someone with anxiety to do something they've said 'no' to. There's good reason they can't attend that gig, party or event. Large numbers of people may trigger panic, or some environments may make them feel trapped. Be patient and gentle. Don't scratch them from your Christmas card list. There will be a time when they do feel well enough to join you. 
 
Instead, maybe offer your time and gentle patience, a hug and cup of tea.

You might also like our article '10 things you can do to help a friend with anxiety'.

If you'd like to know more about anxiety, or mental health, visit here for additional Blue Room resources.

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