Your Words May Be Hurting Your Loved Ones with Anxiety

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. It’s a normal emotional response to stressors in our lives such as work, school, and relationships.

Contrary to popular belief, a person with an anxiety disorder is not simply in a “bad mood” or having a “rough day.” According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders are persistent, interfere with a person’s day-to-day life, and are sometimes brought on for no discernible reason.

Talking about anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses can be uncomfortable. You may not know what to say or what to do to make the other person feel better, but you still want to help. You may have the best intentions but still say the wrong thing. Avoid these phrases when speaking with someone with anxiety:

  • Get over it. Just be happy.
  • Why are you overreacting? It’s no big deal.
  • Calm down.
  • You’re crazy.
  • There are bigger problems in this world. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
  • I know how you feel.

These phrases may seem helpful, but they actually make a person with anxiety feel misunderstood or self-conscious. Telling someone to “be happy” or to “calm down” invalidates the feelings of a person with anxiety and could imply that they have a choice in how they are feeling, which is not true. Instead, they might feel weak or ashamed because they are unable to change the way that they feel.

“Why are you overreacting?” and “There are bigger problems in the world” can make your loved one feel guilty for their feelings, which may make their anxiety worse. “I know how you feel” may seem like you are empathetic, but it can often trivialize the way they feel if you do not live with an anxiety disorder as well.

Instead of the aforementioned phrases, there are plenty of ways to show support and empathy for loved ones with anxiety disorders. The key is to show that the person with anxiety has support and understanding from the people around them. The following phrases are better alternatives to those above:

  • You are not alone in this.
  • I’m here for you.
  • You are important to me.
  • You are not going crazy. Your feelings are valid.
  • You are going to get through this.

People with anxiety disorders do not have to suffer alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are numerous ways to seek help for anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy and medication are the most common treatments, but self-help and support groups can help too. Contacting your primary care physician for referrals can provide you with a proper diagnosis and treatment options.

Photo credit: David

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