We all experience anxiety sometimes, but when someone suffers from a diagnosable anxiety disorder, this normal human experience intensifies and anxiety becomes debilitating. How do we help when some things that we say can be triggering? Here are some examples of what not to say, and why.
What Not to Say to Someone with Anxiety
Did I do something wrong?
We feel bad when someone we care about is suffering from anxiety, and it is our impulse to wonder if we’ve said or done something that contributed to their suffering. However, this question makes the other person’s suffering about you. It puts the person with anxiety in the position to make you feel better, not them.
Just calm down.
This statement seems logical at first, but it diminishes the intensity of what the other person might be feeling. If it was possible for them to simply calm down, they would.
Have a drink. It’ll take the edge off.
This tactic might work temporarily, but self-medicating with alcohol welcomes additional dangers. It’s impossible to soothe anxiety with a depressant, and, in the long run, regular substance use can develop into addiction.
Have you tried meditation or yoga?
Deep breathing, stretching, and enhanced mind-body connection is powerful. Meditation and yoga are healthy, helpful practices for overall wellbeing, and they may help some people manage mental and physical health. But even when these techniques are learned and regularly practiced, they are usually unhelpful for severe anxiety and panic attacks.
I know how you feel.
Though it is an impulsive, well-meaning gesture to try and relate to someone in crisis, comparing your own experience to someone else’s is not helpful. Someone with an anxiety disorder can interpret this statement as trivializing, as it creates a comparison rather than an association. There is no way to really know exactly how another person feels.
It’s all in your head. Let it go.
People with anxiety have a tendency to constantly overthink things. The brain seeks to make sense of emotions and the physical symptoms of anxiety by rationalizing, but if it was possible for someone with anxiety to simply let it go, they would not have an anxiety disorder.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Other people have it so much worse than you.
The fact that things could be worse does not change a person’s current situation or guilt and remorse, feelings that people with anxiety generally wrestle with daily. Gratitude doesn’t cancel out anxiety.
So how do we support someone with anxiety? Here are some phrases to get you started.
I’m concerned about you.
I’ve noticed that…
How are you feeling?
Can you tell me more about your experience?
Are you okay?
I’m sorry you’re going through that.
Take your time.
This must be really hard for you.
This is not your fault.
How can I help?
I’m here for you.
If someone with anxiety confides in you, it’s a big deal. Sharing takes trust. Ask questions. Listen and respond in a respectful way. Be available. Avoid offering advice. If they ask for help, help. If they need resources, offer to help find them find some. Remind them that they are not alone.
If you or a loved one are in need of anxiety treatment, we can help. Please give us a call… we are here for you.