People always say to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” in order to understand where they’re coming from. But how can you pretend to be anxious if you’ve never experienced it before? How can you imagine what anxiety is capable of doing to your body without ever actually feeling it? It’s not possible, it’s too hard to envision the way a feeling can take over if you’ve never experienced it yourself.
However, to serve you some better advice on how to deal with others who have anxiety, I’ve outlined some key tips.
1. If you want to feel what they do, imagine being claustrophobic in a 6 x 6 cell.
This will give you some insight as to how an anxious person might feel at any given moment. They feel as if the world is closing in around them. As if any moment, their breath may cease to exist. The feeling is of total loss of control. It feels as if no matter what they do, they cannot escape whatever doom is coming.
2. If you want to help them, focus on distractions.
Most people who have anxiety find that the only way to cope with those immensely terrifying situations is by thinking and/or talking about something else. Getting their mind off of whatever is making them anxious is extremely helpful as it tends to wander. The initial anxiety builds on itself continuously, creating a monster out of a tadpole. The best thing for an outsider to do is to keep them distracted and occupied, the less they focus on the monster the smaller it will seem.
3. If you want to understand them, understand that logic does not apply.
Anxious people more often than not, recognize that their anxiety is not warranted. In most cases, they are able to come out of a difficult situation by convincing themselves that the anxiety is over some imagined fear, i.e. the world is not actually crumbling down around them. They understand that their feelings are not logical, which is why they are completely functioning individuals most of the time. In fact, you may not even realize a friend of yours has an anxiety disorder because they’re capable of leading totally normal lives and hiding they’re symptoms. But just because they know the feelings are illogical, does not make the disorder disappear; so be cognizant of that.
4. If you want to be in a relationship with them, learn patience.
In these cases, patience really is a virtue. Much like with many disorders or diseases, people with anxiety need the support of someone patient. They will go through minutes or hours or days or even weeks of terrible anxiety. There will be times that they cannot get out of bed or leave the house. Showers will be inexplicably horrifying and getting the mail will not be an option. If you want to love someone with anxiety, you will have to have wrapped your head completely around the first 3 tips and have an enormous capacity for patience. It will be hard, especially since you’ll view the anxiety as illogical from the outside, but do your best to be patient and supportive.
Anxiety is a silent paralyzer. It is a condition that destroys your perception of reality and allows complete takeover of the body by the mind. If you ever experience someone with anxiety, try to remember these helpful tips and do your best to support them. We all have our issues, and it is our perception and ability to relate that makes these issues bearable around others.