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Mental Health

5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who Has Anxiety

Before I even started middle school, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My parents decided to take me to the doctor when they noticed how my stomach would hurt anytime I was about to leave the house and how I would go to the principal’s office multiple times a day just to call and make sure they were okay. As a twenty-one year old adult, I still struggle with anxiety every day. Here is a short list of some things people have said to me (in response to my anxiety) over the years, and why you shouldn’t say them.

1. “Relax.”

When people tell me to “calm down” or “just breathe” while I’m clearly having an anxiety attack, I just want to look at them sarcastically like, “Wow, that was so helpful! I’m all better now!” …If only it were that easy. By the time someone’s told me this, I’ve probably already gone through the whole “five things I can see, four things I can touch” technique at least ten times. Trust me when I say that telling someone to relax, will probably not actually make them relax.

2. “It’s not a big deal.”

My anxiety can be caused by anything and sometimes even caused by nothing (seriously, sometimes my brain just wakes up and decides that today isn’t going to be easy). While sometimes it may not seem like a big deal, it certainly feels like a big deal to me at that moment. Telling me that what I’m experiencing isn’t a big deal is not only unhelpful, but also very invalidating — and I wouldn’t recommend saying this (like, ever) if you actually care about the person who is struggling.

3. “I get nervous sometimes too.”

I think a common misconception about anxiety is that it’s characterized by just “feeling nervous” once in a while, like before taking a test or going in for a job interview — but it is so much more than that. Anxiety is not leaving your house because your brain tells you something horrible will happen if you do, picking at your skin and biting your nails, cancelling plans with friends even though you miss them, rocking back and forth trying not to hyperventilate, and sitting in a room of people wondering if they know how hard you’re trying to keep yourself together.

4. “You’re overthinking.”

Okay, this one is somewhat valid. I am, indeed, probably overthinking — but that doesn’t mean you should point it out, OR that it is the only thing I’m struggling with.

5. “have you tried _________?”

I could fill in the blank with so many words here just based on my own experience. “Have you tried medication/therapy?” “Have you tried yoga?” “Have you tried taking a breath?” I spent years trying to find an anxiety prescription that worked for me to no avail (although medication is efficient for some people). I’ve spent more money than I can afford on appointments with therapists. I’ve watched several YouTube videos on “yoga poses for anxiety” and “breathing exercises for anxiety” but the hard truth is that just because there are things out there that can help you manage your anxiety, doesn’t mean you won’t still struggle with it. I’m learning to accept that.

All jokes and sarcasm aside, I completely understand that it’s hard to know what to say when someone is experiencing anxiety or an anxiety attack. Truthfully, sometimes there’s nothing you can say to make it better. In my opinion, the best thing you can do is ask them how you can support them and go from there. If they’re like me, they may just want you to sit with them as it passes and try to understand that it’s not something they can control. Try not to judge or belittle the way they’re feeling because it’s likely that they don’t understand it either.

This article was inspired by a poem I wrote a couple of years ago in my Creative Writing class.

“What Not To Say To Someone With Anxiety”

Just calm down,

you’re overreacting!

Try some yoga,

find something distracting.

Stop overthinking,

you’re gonna be fine!

Get over it already,
It just takes time.

Here we go again,

it’s all in your head!

Calm down, deep breaths,

try counting to ten.

You just gotta push through it,

it’s not a big deal!

Others have it worse.

I know exactly how you feel.

Stop acting so weird,

you just need a drink!

Don’t sweat the small stuff,

try not to think.

You stress too much,

you’re gonna get sick!

You’re always so negative,

you don’t have to be a dick.

You’re not trying hard enough,

Try medication!

Go to a therapist,

Take a vacation.

Worrying won’t help,

spend time with your friends!

Excuses, excuses,

anxiety’s just another trend.

If you really want to help me,

don’t make me feel small.

Sometimes it’s best

To say nothing at all.

Carlie Dingle

Coastal Carolina '23

Carlie is a fourth year Psychology/Sociology student at Coastal Carolina University. When she's not in class or working on her online crystal business, she's probably writing, thrifting, hiking, or reading under a tree somewhere. Creative writing and mental health are both very important to Carlie, so you'll probably find that a lot of her writing is focused around mental health and self-care.
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