I think it’s safe to say that we all have experienced some form of anxiety in our lives. Whether our anxiety resulted from a specific situation(s) or was a result of living with panic disorder, it is still no walk in the park. You know what else isn’t a walk in the park? Having someone try calming you down, but instead ironically making your situation much worse. It’s kind of like helping someone bake a cake, and instead of adding a pound of sugar you mistakenly add salt… Yikes. Although your intentions were to help, you ended up causing hurt. With that being said, if you ever find yourself supporting an anxious or distressed loved one, here are some clear statements to avoid saying.
ONE: “Why are you anxious?”
We are starting off our list with my personal favorite question to be asked. -NOT Anything that implies you not understanding why your loved one might feel anxious is a no go! Your role as their loved one is naturally to want to understand their discomfort, so that you can better help. However when it comes to anxious individuals that rule of thumb no longer applies. You do not have to understand the way your loved one feels in order to respect it. Remember that. Simply continue validating them without overpowering and/or offending their feelings.
TWO: “Try to calm down”
Believe it or not, this statement is not as reassuring as one may believe. Even though your loved one understands you mean well, this statement still has the power to come off rude. By telling them to calm down the only thing you are being in that moment is unsupportive. Saying this to your loved one is not empathetic by any means, and instead it actually insinuates them choosing to have an anxiety disorder. Which is not the case. If they could calm down, they would. Trust me.
THREE: “It’s all in your head”
Another common attempt to relax an anxious loved one is to say “it’s all in your head.” Saying this does not necessarily help your loved one while they are in distress. Anxiety is real. Just because we cannot see it does not imply that anxious people cannot feel it. By making the comment “it’s all in your head” all you are doing is minimizing their current feelings. An anxious person’s thought process becomes quite distorted while in distress, and even if it is easy for you to departmentalize what’s happening; they may not be able to.
FOUR:“Everything will be fine”
This statement is definitely overused in numerous circumstances. Yes this seems like a comforting comment to say to your loved one, but surely it can turn problematic. There is no 100% guarantee that everything will be fine. So in the case of something truly going wrong all you have done is invalidated your loved one’s mind. Try replacing the statement with “It’s unlikely something will go wrong, but if it does we will work through it together.” This way you are reassuring your loved one that they are not alone.
FIVE: “I know how you feel”
“But do you though?” I strongly believe that it is best to leave your personal experiences with anxiety out of the equation. This is even more important for those who don’t actually have a mental health disorder. I am sorry, but please do not compare your everyday worries and anxieties with your loved ones anxiety disorder. They know you mean well by making this statement, however it can come off as rude.
SIX: ” Things can be worse”
Stop saying this to your loved ones. Anxiety already makes your loved ones feel a plethora of emotions. They may feel worry, fear, panic, sadness, and one important emotion to acknowledge- guilt. Believe it or not, people with anxiety sometimes feel guilty for being anxious. For me, I always feel guilty for worrying too much, and then apologizing for it. It can be exhausting to not only me, but my loved ones. However please refrain from making this insensitive comment. They get it. They know that there are many out there who have it worse than them. And with that being said, it still does not mean their situation is not bad. To point it out just adds to the guilt we are already feeling.
SEVEN: “You should get a drink to calm down”
Here is the truth about encouraging alcohol as a coping approach to “take the edge off” with an anxious loved one. It can expeditiously become a gateway drug. For those who are unfamiliar, a gateway drug by definition is: a habit-forming drug that, while not itself addictive, may lead to the use of other addictive drugs (en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/gateway_drug). By encouraging and associating the use of alcohol as a resource to taper off their anxiety, you run the risk of enabling a newly dangerous habit. Individuals with mood disorders and psychiatric diagnosis are twice as likely to become substance abusers. So to stay on the safer side, please avoid offering alcohol as a coping mechanism.
EIGHT: ” Think positive thoughts”
First of all…anxiety is not synonymous with negativity. So let’s stop there. Anxiety is a learned response resulting from a traumatic event(s) which leads those feeling as if they are always unsafe to some degree. Making comments like “the glass is half-way full” or “on the bright side” can come off very patronizing to someone suffering with anxiety.
When it comes to being supportive of your loved ones anxiety, sometimes you may not know how to be. Sometimes instead of “putting out the fire” you may very well be “adding fuel to it.” It is important to remember being present during their difficult moment is sometimes all they need. Throughout my mental health journey I have learned this: Our loved ones help us the best way they know how. It may not be our best way of how we need to be comforted in that moment, but it’s theirs. Think about that.