While everyone gets anxious, not everyone understands what it’s like to deal with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is so much more than simply “feeling worried” — and you can’t just switch it off at will. People who struggle with chronic anxiety feel anxious almost all of the time, and often for no apparent reason. One thing that can make it even worse, however, is when loved ones and strangers alike volunteer their own unhelpful advice about how to deal with anxiety.
As someone who has dealt with anxiety on a daily basis for most of my life, and depression intermittently since puberty, I can tell you from experience that dealing with both of these mental health issues — sometimes simultaneously — can get pretty rough. At this point in my life, I’m happy to report that I keep finding more and more ways to manage my anxiety — currently, I have more good days than bad days. But this doesn’t change the fact that I frequently catch myself holding my breath, suffering from chest pains, or clenching my jaw even when I’m completely safe and surrounded by my favorite people. And sometimes, even when they mean well, those people say things that make it even worse.
Dealing with anxiety already leaves anxious people feeling weak and self-conscious AF, so the next time you find yourself in the company of an anxious person, trust me when I tell you that they don’t need to hear these five unhelpful tips for dealing with anxiety.
"Smoke Weed About It"
OK, so I get why people have told me this. In moderation, marijuana's medicinal properties can work all kinds of wonders. In fact, I often do use marijuana to combat everything from my anxiety to my menstrual cramps — and it works like a dang charm. I still think this isn't the best advice to give a person with anxiety, though — especially if they've never partook before.
For some people, marijuana can actually increase anxiety. Even for people (like myself) who love the stuff, I can tell you from experience that moderation is key. There was a time in my life when weed was the very first thing I'd turn to when I felt an anxiety attack coming on, and it just wasn't good for me. Fortunately, I've since accrued more than a dozen additional ways to cope with anxiety, and I'm much happier.
If I feel an anxiety attack coming on while I'm working on an article, I can't just pack a bowl and forget about my responsibilities for two hours. If I did, I'd never get anything done. Moreover, pot isn't cheap, and relying too heavily on it for it's anxiety-reducing capabilities isn't a financially responsible choice for most people. So while I love me some sticky buds, I don't think it's helpful to advise a person with anxiety to smoke weed every time they feel anxious. No matter how good your intentions are, please don't do this.
"Just Don't Start Taking Pills"
When I finally saw a doctor about my anxiety last spring, this is the way one of my dearest friends responded to the news. I know she loves me a lot, so this comment probably came from a place of genuine concern — but it was literally the worst thing she could have said to me. For me, and so many people like me, admitting you have an anxiety disorder in the first place is immensely embarrassing and difficult. Moreover, untreated anxiety messes with more than just your mental health; everything from your professional life to your personal life to your physical health can seriously suffer from unchecked anxiety issues.
In the end, I actually don't take my anti-anxiety meds anymore. I hate how they make me feel, and I've been fortunate enough to find effective ways to treat my anxiety without medication. I still keep my pills on hand just in case, though, because panic attacks are terrifying, and doctors prescribe medication for a reason. Whatever someone ends up choosing, your judgement about whether or not a person with anxiety takes medication simply isn't helpful — it will actually only produce more anxiety for them.
"Maybe You Should Stop Drinking Coffee"
Look, I'm well aware that anxious people need to be cautious about their coffee consumption. Believe me. I've written more than one article about how caffeine and anxiety don't mix, and I've had to cut way back on my caffeine intake in the past year for this very reason.
However, in moderation, coffee can also be really good for us. Personally, coffee gives me the boost I so often need to get to work, it keeps me from being mean to everyone when I wake up in the morning, and it's also delicious. So while this piece of advice isn't particularly offensive, that doesn't make it any less annoying. I'm begging you, unless they specifically ask you about it, please refrain from telling grown people what they probably already know about the link between coffee and anxiety.
"Give It To God"
Speaking as the daughter of a part-time preacher (yes, that's a thing) who has lived most of her life in the Midwest, I've heard this gem many times. As an agnostic, I have no use for tips like this. I mean, "give it to God" isn't exactly a welcome piece of advice when you're not sure if God even exists outside of literature and film — but even when I was a practicing Christian, this piece of advice upset me. As a kid, I would plead with God to "deliver me" from my anxiety every time I prayed, but my anxiety would only get worse.
Of course, I'm not saying you shouldn't beseech the god of your choice to take away your anxiety if doing so helps you feel less anxious. On the contrary, when it comes to anxiety, I feel like you should do whatever works. I just don't think it's good advice to tell someone with anxiety that halting a panic attack or ridding themselves of anxious thoughts is as easy as "giving it to God." This advice not only belittles our struggle, it's completely irrelevant to anxious people who aren't religious.
"Just Find Better Things To Think About"
A couple of years ago, my now-ex boyfriend told me this, and it kind of broke my heart. I don't even remember what it was I was feeling anxious about at the time, either; I just remember that I wanted to talk to him about it, and he didn't want to listen. To be fair to him, it's not always easy to date someone with anxiety — and during this particular phase of our relationship, my anxiety was pretty out of control for a number of reasons.
None of this changes the fact that "find better things to think about" just isn't solid advice to give to a person with anxiety, though. It's kind of like saying, "change the way your brain works," or "ignore every instinct you have." The thing is, when you struggle with anxiety, there are going to be times when no thoughts are "safe." Of course, this doesn't mean anxious people shouldn't work hard to stay positive and practice gratitude daily. It also doesn't mean we shouldn't try to identify and avoid our triggers. What it does mean is this: On really bad days, an anxious person could literally think of only puppies and kittens all day and still feel like they're on the verge of a panic attack. People who deal with anxiety daily already often feel out of control, and comments like this only add to that feeling.
Images: Pexels, Giphy/(5)