Between work stress, relationship conflicts and lack of sleep, it can feel as though we are chronically met with overwhelm and not enough time. Whatever is making us tense, that anxiety can permeate our beings and really mess with our emotional states, and so the last thing we need is to hear advice from others that will enhance our nervousness.
A a certified health coach, I can see when my clients are in fragile states, and how their emotional responses can fire after a simple comment. Whether we are working on fixing chronic anxiety, or just regulating emotions in a calm and effective manner upon triggers, I am always mindful of the proper things to say to allow my clients to progress and come to rationality and a relaxed state. There are several things that will not help someone feel less tense, as often these overly chipper comments will only seem to invalidate emotions and provoke greater stress.
If you find yourself suffering from anxiety on a regular basis and believe that it is debilitating you in your productivity and wellbeing, it may be helpful to talk to someone about a possible anxiety disorder and to learn the steps on how to deal with anxiety in a healthier manner. Here are eleven things to never say to someone who is suffering from anxiety.
1. "Just stop worrying."
This phrase is particularly annoying to someone who is feeling overwhelmed, as it makes the assumption that getting rid of anxiety is easy. Once anxiety hits, it encompasses your entire body, and it is challenging to calm down, both mentally and physically. "If an anxious person could simply 'turn their anxiety off,' I can assure you they would," says Chicago-based therapist, Chelsea Hudson, in an email correspondence with Bustle. Instead of brushing it away, help the person who is suffering deal with it by providing soothing support.
This is a real pet peeve of mine, actually. While I don't like the phrases, "Calm down" or "Relax" either, as they are telling me how to feel in a dismissive manner, I really detest "Chill." The word does not acknowledge or validate one's emotions. Plus, there is absolutely no empathy in the phrase, but rather an iciness that can insinuate that you just don't care how the person feels or want to help.
3. "Anxiety is bad for your health."
"If someone is already anxious, telling them that their automatic internal sensations are unhealthy is only going to make them have more worried thoughts, which will in turn just increase their physical anxiety response," says Hudson. Everyone knows that anxiety is bad for your heath, so it's a no brainer that needing to calm down would be better for our brain, heart and hormones. Stressing about health is another common issue, so there's no need to add another worry to mix.
4. "I don't see why you are upset."
Invalidating someone's emotions or passing them off as trivial will only make them feel more anxious and alone. Instead, "reflect how frustrating it must feel for them to be experiencing anxiety," says Hudson, and remind them that they are safe and that eventually the anxiety will pass." When we are anxious, we want someone there to support us, make us feel safe, and to empathize with us. If you show that you don't see the stressed person's point of view or agree, you'll only make matters worse.
5. "Stop being crazy."
Crazy is probably one of the worst words you can use to describe a person who is stressed, especially if that person is suffering from an anxiety disorder. People who struggle with disorders that affect their mental health do not want or need to hear that; they need support and love to get through the harder times. Thoughts need to be acknowledged, validated, and then subdued.
6. "Don't sweat the small stuff."
Ugh. Whatever the person is stressing out about is clearly not small from his or her perspective. Regardless of whether you find the issue to be trivial or of real importance, it's not your position to provide an opinion as to how he or she should act in the situation. Work on helping the person to calm down by putting ice cubes on his or her forehead, holding his or hand, or giving a light neck massage.
7. "Just breathe."
Telling someone to do something that are incapable of doing without support and care is a waste of time."They're already extremely aware of their less than normal breathing pattern," says certified health coach Sheila Petersen, in an email interview with Bustle. If they could breathe and relax, they would. "Try doing a few yoga poses with them like 'Legs Up The Wall' to calm the nervous system or 'Childs' Pose' to help slow down the mind," advises Petersen.
8. "Try not to think about it."
You know that mind trick with the white polar bear, where you try not to think about it, and then of course, all you can do is think about it, and then you stress about breaking the rules, and then that only leads to more stress and more thoughts? Well, the same rule applies here. When someone is anxious, the thoughts overwhelm the mind, and it's hard to turn that off. Instead of saying this, help distract them, while still validating their feelings. "When anxiety rears it's head, try going for a walk in nature. Being outdoors can bring a sense of calm and peace, solo or with a friend," says Petersen.
9. "Think about all the good things you have."
Gratitude exercises can be beneficial for your health and wellbeing, and feeling positive is always better than negative; however, if you are anxious, the last thing you want to think about is all the good things you have and what you should be grateful for. It's known that anxiety can make people feel insecure as is, so by urging them to be grateful, you are making them feel even more inadequate. Instead, tell them all the good things that you appreciate them for.
10. "I'm anxious, too. Everyone is."
While it's great to show that you emphasize, it's not a good idea to make the anxious person feel as though his or her problems are common to all. It's important to keep the spotlight on the person who is anxious and to be there for him or her however needed, rather than bringing yourself and your own anxieties into the matter. This phrase also downplays the emotions, making the anxieties seem generic. Instead, say, "I know what you're going through is hard. How can I help?" to relax the person in need.
11. "Other people have it way worse."
By pointing out how minuscule the person's anxieties are relative to greater world, it makes the stress appear invalid and unimportant. We all know how fortunate we are and that there are people in the world who suffer from greater woes each day; yet, we don't want to think about those people when we are feeling stressed about our own lives. Dwelling in negativity isn't helpful, but acknowledging how we feel and understanding the validity of our stress is the only way we can move on.
No matter what causes your anxiety, the emotions are real and deserve care and patience. If you are trying to help another person relax, work on being supportive, showing empathy, and validating the anxiety. Lightly touch the person or give a hug or massage to make him or her feel loved and safe. Avoid these questions, as they will only worsen anxiety levels. Just think about how you would feel in the other's shoes, and use your intuition off of that feeling.
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