I’m finally facing it: I have anxiety. My whole life, I described anxiety as just being very “Kayla.” I keep my symptoms very hidden, even around people I trust, so it can be difficult for people to notice. If other people didn’t notice, I could just stay silent and suffer in my own head. Even before I realized I have anxiety, people would try to give me “helpful tips” when they did notice I was constantly worried about everything on an extreme level. Here are some things you shouldn’t say to someone with anxiety, at least in general.
Things NOT to say to a person with anxiety:
1. You should just relax
This one has a very simple explanation. Obviously I know I should relax! I can’t. I might be able to, with some help, breathing, change in thought process and medication, but right now if you’re saying this to me I probably can’t relax. If you want to be helpful, accept that and get on my side rather than telling me how I should be.
2. Exercise more! It’ll go away
Of course, exercise can gradually improve anxiety levels in anyone, but it won’t make my anxiety disappear. The gym can’t fix everything; I need to actually address my mental health.
3. Just drink some water and watch your anxiety wash away
Again, of course water is good for you! But I promise it’s not going to stop my anxiety completely. Trust me, I’ve been drinking water my whole life.
4. That’s not a big deal!
You have to accept that it feels like a big deal to me. People like to tell me that “the world isn’t ending.” I can rationally understand that, but it feels like all the pressure in the world is on me. It may not be a big deal to you, but these problems, even if they appear insignificant, are weighing on me heavily.
Things TO say to a person with anxiety:
1. You’re safe
During an anxiety attack, I am personally always worried about safety. I might be thinking too much about a possible active shooter randomly walking into wherever I am. A gentle verbal reminder that I’m safe can be helpful.
2. Breathe, I’m here
This is another grounding technique in the moment of an anxiety attack. If you can get me to breathe regularly, we’re on the right track. Reminding me that someone is here helps remind me of my physical presence.
3. Your worries are real, but your brain is lying to you
This validates my feelings while also recognizing the anxiety. It’s okay that I’m thinking about these things, but my brain is exaggerating the truth.
4. What around you is real?
Another grounding technique that can distract me from my thoughts. Ask me questions about colors, textures and sounds around me. Ask me questions about something I like that has nothing to do with what I’m worried about.
This in no way applies to everyone with anxiety, but it could apply to some people. The key idea is to stay away from generalizations on life improvement and focus on caring for and listening to the person with anxiety.