Anxiety. Just looking at that word makes me feel so many emotions at once, yet it has drained me of anything besides fear. The sleepless nights, constant nausea, racing heartbeat, shaking hands, thoughts of situations I know will never come true creates a never-ending battle with myself that I seem to always lose.
It is hard when you’re at war with yourself to reach out to those you care about to express how you truly feel. But when you finally do, you often try to let yourself open up and share the your struggles. You tell them of all the sleepless nights and how you are overcome with feelings you don’t understand. You explain to them that this is why you haven’t been feeling like yourself and you often feel so powerless against your own mind. You tell them that you’re scared, anxious, sad and angry all at the same time.
You can feel very anxious but freed once you have told them, and you can begin to gain the confidence to share your feelings with others. As you do, you get certain responses that lack sympathy and knowledge for what you’re going through. The following list will be some of the various unhelpful things you might hear if you have anxiety:
1. “But you seem perfectly fine. I haven’t noticed anything.”
One of the biggest stereotypes about having a mental illness is that if you don’t actively “look” like you have one than you’re fine. Even if it does seem like your life is going great to others does not mean you are not in a bad mental state. With that said, it is important to know you should never have to justify that you have a mental illness to those who express doubts about its authenticity.
2. “I have anxiety too! I get stressed out a lot.”
There is a huge difference between having stress and having an anxiety disorder. Low levels of stress about troubles in your life is common. Having uncontrollable anxiety more often than not, getting very nervous over small things that would typically not be stressful, and showing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder are not the same as stress and need to be taken more seriously.
3. “You do know it’s all in your head, right?”
Many people struggling with a mental illness know about the physical symptoms that can make you feel like you have lost control of your mind and body. Mental illnesses may just occur in the mind, but have so much more control over your actions and thoughts than many think they do.
4. “Just breathe! You definitely need to take a chill pill.”
Telling someone to “Just breathe!” usually never makes the situation better and/or adding on a statement that pokes fun at anxiety medication is even worse. No one should ever be told either one of these two sentences because of how unsympathetic it is to that person. Telling someone to “breathe” won’t always stop their anxiety.
5. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about! Life is great!”
Here’s one of the biggest problems I see with telling this to someone who has anxiety (or any disorder for that matter): the complete lack of understanding for what anxiety can do to your mind. No matter how good someone’s life is or how well things may seem, anxiety can put this doubt in your mind that can affect how you see the world. Being told how great life is won’t change how you feel no matter how much you wish it would, and letting others make you feel like you’re not appreciating life by not seeing it the same way they doesn’t help either. Let yourself go at your own pace and don’t let anyone rush you in your process to seeing more beauty in life.
6. If you get a menstrual cycle, you will understand this one: “You’re probably PMSing.”
It is wrong in so many ways to compare a mental disorder to emotions you get before getting your period because it is categorizing two very different things into one group. It is already hurtful enough to debunk someone’s feelings as simply “PMSing,” let alone telling them their anxiety disorder is just their “time of the month.”
7. “Some people have it way worse than you.”
A challenge that comes with talking about your disorder is the fear of being compared to other people’s experiences and disorders. Something everyone should know is that if you and someone else have the exact same mental illness, your disorder will be entirely based off of your personal experiences/emotions and will definitely not be the same. Your friend may deal with certain things that seem more serious than you, but that does not mean what you’re going through is any less important. We need to stop ignoring mental illnesses based on whether we classify them as “low-functioning” or “high-functioning” and support each other for being strong, brave individuals.
8. “It’s probably just a phase. You’ll get over it soon.”
Insert long, dramatic sigh here. I think this sentence has been used too many times when a person is faced with learning about their loved one having a mental illness, and I feel like it is a huge band-aid to cover up something that is not just a scratch but more of a battle wound. Instead of trying to reassure yourself and that person that they will just “get over it soon,” please try to realize the seriousness of a mental disorder, how real it is and the control it can have over you. A “phase” is obsessing over boy bands as a teenager with posters all over your walls that you’ll probably remove within a few months or dressing to the latest trends that you cringe at when you get older. A debilitating mental disorder is not a phase, but a long process of recovery to try to improve ones mental health.
9. “Calm down.”
I feel like this would go into the same category as the “Just breathe!” sentence due to the misunderstanding that saying these two words will heal you completely and rid you of a disorder. Out of all of the words of encouragement and comfort in the dictionary, these are one of the many I think should never be used together as a response to an anxiety disorder (or any other disorder). There are so many other things you could say that will be much more calming to that person than this and will carry more meaning.
10. “Stop sweating the small stuff.”
As someone who has an anxiety disorder, I am fully aware that when I am worrying about something it is usually a problem that should not be worried about. That can be the soul-crushing thing about having an anxiety disorder — you know you are getting nervous over nothing, yet you can’t stop having anxiety over it. So telling someone to “stop sweating the small stuff” can feel like a punch in the face because it feels almost impossible to not worry about the little things when you have an anxiety disorder.
Just remember: No matter what others may say about your anxiety disorder or how much they may try to brush it away as “nothing,” you can (and will) overcome this. I believe in you.
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Unsplash image via Ivan Karasev