Google likes to define anxiety simply: "a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome." But those of us who suffer from an anxiety disorder know that it's not nearly that simple. Many of us seem totally fine most of the time. We know how to function. We have jobs. We have friends. We have lovers. We can manage, because we may have learned techniques to get us through the day and/or are on medication(s).
But the fact that we can function doesn't mean that it's easy to live with an anxiety disorder. We have a hidden shadow that follows us — and makes itself known when something triggers it. It can be something small, like not being able to decide what to have for lunch; or something bigger, like thinking you see your ex across a room even though you KNOW they couldn't possibly be there. It can be a social event you've committed to and are afraid to attend, or the deadlines you have at school or at work that you're anxious about being able to meet.
Believe me, many of us would rather not make our anxiety known to the world because that, in fact, makes us even more anxious. But when we are anxious, should you be there to witness it, please (pretty, pretty please with a cherry on top) try to avoid the phrases below, because they make us feel so much worse.
1. "Don’t worry!"
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: We can’t help it. And besides, it’s not “worry,” it’s anxiety — something our brain chemistry may be predisposed to. For instance, we’re not “worried” that our best friend is mad at us because they send us a text saying “OK…” — we’re anxious about it. Physically. Palm-sweatingly. Heart-racingly. Telling us not to worry dismisses our anxiety.
What To Say Instead: Try to sympathize: “Oh, no, I’m so sorry,” or “That sounds really scary/frustrating.”
2. "It’s going to be fine."
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: Is it, though? Is it going to be fine? How do you know? Can you prove it? No? Then don’t say that. It’s not only dismissive, but it also makes us spiral further into that hole in which we begin to try to figure out whether it will or won’t be fine.
What To Say Instead: Sympathy and hope go a long way: “I hope it’s going to be fine,” or “I feel for you.”
3. "It’s all in your head."
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: Gee, thanks, never thought of it that way. We know it’s all in our head. We’re aware more often than not of how ridiculous our anxieties are. That doesn’t make them any less real.
What To Say Instead: Use logic to convince or remind us why our fears may be illogical: “Your boss is terse with everyone, you’ve told me that before, remember?” or “Your roommate is always grouchy late at night,” or “Your partner loves you, they really do, and they’re just having a bad day and taking it out on you.”
4. "Just be patient."
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: We try to be. We really do. But if someone isn’t calling/texting us back, it’s hard to practice patience because our brains are telling us that this is it, we’ve failed, we’ve ruined everything and that’s that. We feel terrible enough about our impatience — don’t make us feel worse, please.
What To Say Instead: Reassurance is key: “They’re always flaky about their phone,” or “I know it’s hard, but there’s nothing you can do.”
5. "You’re such a pessimist."
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: Having low expectations is a coping mechanism many of us use because it makes it easier for us to handle disappointment and prepare for failure should it come.
What To Say Instead: Nothing. Don’t call us pessimists when we’re trying to handle our anxiety in a different way than you handle your own issues.
6. "Stop being so uptight!"
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: This is one of the worst things an anxious person can hear. The layers of terribleness are multiple. It makes us think we really are uptight, that we should be able to just chill out, and what’s wrong with us that we can't?
What To Say Instead: “Are you OK?” If we say yes, leave us alone because we need some space. If we say no, ask us if there’s anything you can do.
7. "I’m so worried about you."
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: Are we so obviously anxious? How can we tone it down? Are you saying that because we’re embarrassing you and you’re worried about how weird we’re being around your obviously cooler friends? HALP!
What To Say Instead: “Are you OK?” (Again, take our answer at face value.)
8. "Don’t be so boring, just come out tonight."
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: Never, ever, call your friends or loved ones “boring.” Being called “boring” feels awful, especially when we’re just not good at spontaneity. We wish we could go out, but sometimes, we know we’ll feel worse if we actually do.
What To Say Instead: Accept our need to be able to refuse an offer without being judged for it: “Want to come out? No pressure!”
9. "Just stop over-thinking everything."
Why That Just Makes Us More Anxious: If we could, don't you think we would?
What To Say Instead: You can gently help us more towards a solution or another subject, acknowledging our over-thinking while still respecting it: “I think you’re over-thinking this. Let’s try [offer a solution].”
Images: ASweeneyPhoto/Flickr; Giphy (10)