When people think of anxiety, they tend to associate it with worry and fear. These are normal, everyday human emotions. However, those who suffer from anxiety disorder (or AD) experience feelings of crippling panic and constant distress in a way that a healthy individual can barely perceive. Anxious people are often nervous. People who have anxiety disorder are not nervous; rather they live in fear.
They get panic attacks at home, at work, in bed, in traffic, around other people and when they’re alone. They wake up in horror and go to sleep terrified. These people suffer inconceivable pain. Naturally, their loved ones do whatever they can to help them, but their advice sometimes makes matters worse. They may have the best of intentions, but their words can have a contradictory effect. Here is a list of ten things you should never, ever say to someone who has anxiety disorder:
1. Cheer up
Seriously? Don’t you think that a person with AD never thought of it? They want to be happy, but the fact is they can’t – at least not at this point in time. If you utter these two ridiculous words, you’ll only make them feel guilty over the fact that they can’t be as carefree as you are. Anxious disorder is a real illness. Would you tell a man who has cancer to cheer up? I don’t think so.
2. There’s nothing to be afraid of
People with AD are not stupid. They know all the facts and they perceive reality just like any other human being. They are not afraid of the monsters under their bed. They’re just afraid – it’s how their over-worked nervous system functions.
3. What’s wrong with you?
No comment on this one. None whatsoever.
4. Calm down
The fear that people with AD feel is actually a subconscious automatic response of their nervous system, and as such, it is beyond their control most of the time. In other words, they can’t will themselves into being calm. Sometimes it just takes time until the fear wears down on its own.
5. Your problem is very serious
Anxious disorder has many layers. In addition to general anxiety and panic attacks, people with AD tend to be extremely afraid of going crazy. Also, they might dread the possibility of having a heart attack or even dying. If you tell them their state is serious, you’ll just generate more fear. This statement is therefore very damaging. Keep in mind that anxious disorder is not only manageable, but also treatable.
6. Your problem is minor
In addition to exaggerating the seriousness of anxiety disorder, you might find yourself undermining it. Perhaps you want your loved one to feel hopeful, but that is not what your words convey. People who have AD want you to know that they’re really suffering and not just putting it on. You have to tell them you know that they’re feeling awful, but don’t forget to emphasize the fact that their problem has a solution.
7. Breathe deep
Your breathing should not be shallow, but breathing really deep is also not natural. It increases the level of oxygen in your blood, which makes you feel more alert – and this is not very helpful to those who have AD. Better alternative would be to breathe more slowly.
8. Go outside/go for a run/watch TV etc.
Distractions can be helpful, but it is not a very good idea to force someone into doing something. Instead, ask them if there is something they would enjoy doing. Let them make the first step.
9. I felt the same way when I took my exam/went to the dentist’s/had a job interview etc.
Never compare your normal everyday worries to anxious disorder. It is not the same. It is not even remotely similar.
10. I can’t take it anymore
This is the worst possible thing you could ever say to someone who has anxious disorder. Yes, this disorder will deeply affect not only the person who suffers from it, but also their family and friends. The disorder itself can appear persistent and illogical. Sometimes, it will seem like everything you say or do makes matters worse. The afflicted person will often come across as whiny and needy and for the family members it does get too much occasionally. However, when you feel like this, go somewhere and find a way to blow off steam – but don’t take it out on the person whose state already makes them miserable. Remember, it’s worse for them. Much, much worse.
At times, it might seem to you that nothing you say can ever be right. People with AD are sensitive and you need to be careful with your words around them. The words you use should convey sympathy, understanding and hope. But even more importantly, what you can do and what you should do is to listen. Even if they talk about their feelings all day long, try and listen – this is cathartic for them and helps you understand what they’re really going through.