Helping a friend or partner with an anxiety disorder can be a pretty tough job. If they're really struggling, then you probably do your best to offer support and comfort whenever possible. And that's awesome. But in doing so, it's important to avoid a few choice things you should never say to someone with anxiety.
Even though your heart's in the right place, encouraging them to "get over it" or pressuring them to "just calm down" can do more harm than good. "A person experiencing anxiety has perceptions and thought patterns [that] are broken and distorted," Katie Bennet, a certified coach and co-founder at Ama La Vida, tells Bustle. "Just like it is difficult and damaging to try and walk normally when you have a broken leg, it is equally difficult and damaging to just try and think normally when you are suffering anxiety."
So, what does that leave when it comes to offering comfort and support? Well, instead of suggesting they "calm down" or "push through it," you could ask if there's anything you can do to help. Or, you could simply reassure them that you're available, should they need anything. "This helps the other person to feel heard, valued, and supported," Bennet says, which is really all you need to do. Read on for some more phrases to avoid, no matter what.
1. "Just get over it"
When someone's feeling anxious, you might want to encourage them to "get over it." But pause and think about why that wouldn't be helpful. "You would never say to someone with a broken leg 'whatever, just walk on it,'" says Bennet. "Yet, because we cannot 'see' anxiety, it is hard for people that have never experienced it to understand." You really can't "just get over it."
2. "It's all in your head"
In an attempt to calm an anxious person's worry, you might also feel tempted to say "it's all in your head." But keep in mind that anxiety feels very real, so this comment rarely comes off as intended. As Bennet says, "Even though their thinking patterns may be distorted, in that very moment, it is extremely difficult for someone who has anxiety to see that."
3. "You're such a weirdo"
Anxiety can make people do some pretty strange things, like panic in public or dramatically avoid certain situations. It may be odd to witness, but you should never call them out on it. As Bennet says, "Anxiety feels large, dark, and overwhelming. Even if their behaviors may be seem strange to you, it is important not to make them feel that they are weird or crazy." That'll only make things worse.
4. "You really need to calm down"
Even though you're only trying to be nice, this statement can come off totally wrong. "Telling them to calm down is not empathetic and insinuates that they are choosing to have an anxiety disorder," counselor Montigus Jackson, MS, LMHC tells Bustle. If they could calm down, they would.
5. "You just need to push through it"
Another semi-sweet bit of advice is the "you just need to push through it" phrase. Even though you're trying to be kind, keep in mind someone with anxiety can't just magically feel better. "Forcing someone with an anxiety disorder to face their fears has the ability to make things much worse," Jackson says. Not to mention it's a pretty heartless thing to say to someone who's suffering from a true disorder.
6. "Why don't you have a drink?"
It's human instinct to want an anxious person to calm down — especially if they are your family member, partner, or friend. But offering them a drink? Not a good idea. "It is true that having a few drinks can take the edge off," Jackson says. "But people with mood disorders are twice as likely to develop drug and alcohol addiction problems, so this can be a slippery slope for someone with anxiety to go down."
7. "You're overanalyzing the situation"
Anxious people certainly have a way of overanalyzing situations, and it can be difficult to watch. But keep in mind that's the very nature of the disorder. "You should do your best never to minimize or invalidate someone's experience with anxiety," says therapist Katie Krimer, MS, LMSW. "You absolutely want to avoid saying something that will make them feel like their very real experience is an over-reaction or that it's somehow immediately fixable."
8. "Just suck it up and do it"
In the same vein, you never want to push someone to "suck it up," either. As Chris MacLeod, MSW, RSW says, "If your anxiety is bad enough, you can't force through it by 'sucking it up'. Implying the anxious person is a coward or a wimp makes them feel shamed and misunderstood." And that's clearly not cool.
9. "You have nothing to worry about"
It may seem obvious to you that nothing scary is happening, but that's not how the anxious person feels. That's why, by claiming they have nothing to worry about, you're essentially invalidating their feelings. As NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson says, "Just because one person can handle a certain issue or circumstance doesn't mean everyone can."
10. "I totally understand what you're going through"
It's best to leave your experiences with anxiety out of the equation — especially if you don't have an actual disorder. "Please do not compare everyday worries and anxieties with an anxiety disorder," licensed clinical psychologist Helen Odessky, PsyD. tells Bustle. While you mean well, and only want to commiserate, this can come off as a pretty big insult.
11. "I don't see why you're so upset"
Another comment worth avoiding? Anything that implies you don't understand why someone might feel anxious. As therapist Emily Ross, MSW, LICSW says, "When someone you care about is feeling anxious, it may be difficult to understand why they feel the way they do. But you don’t have to understand the way someone else feels to respect it. Focus on validation and hopeful comments. "
By doing these things, you can better support your friend/family member/partner who has anxiety — without offending them or making them feel worse.
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