— Mental Health Matters

11 pieces of advice you should never tell someone with anxiety

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As a person with anxiety, I know that it’s not always easy to know how to communicate with me. Nothing seems to bring me comfort when I’m having an anxiety attack. But some comments — as well-intentioned as they may be — can actually be detrimental when it comes to me successfully getting past the overwhelming levels of anxiety I’m feeling. And based on what mental health professionals and people with anxiety have written over the years, my experience is not a unique one — there are definitely certain things you should avoid saying to someone with anxiety.

While many people mean well when they are trying to help a loved one through an anxiety attack, the words that come to mind first are unfortunately not always the appropriate ones to say. And sometimes, in your pursuit to have your friend or family member relax, you might understandably get frustrated. So this list provides some explanations on why what you’re saying to people with anxiety doesn’t always work.

Whether these insights are from mental health professionals or people who know what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder, here are 11 things not to say to someone with anxiety.

1“Just relax.”

In my other career as a massage therapist, I have learned that telling a client to “relax” is a surefire way to get them to become even tenser. Well, that same rule can be applied to trying to help someone with anxiety. As Ari Eastman wrote for Thought Catalog, “When you tell someone to relax, you aren’t being helpful. You’re just robbing them of validity. You’re telling them, ‘This thing you have isn’t real. Just stop it.’ You’re denying their experience, their struggle.”

2“Calm down.”

Just like “relax,” same goes for “calm down.” Although it’s similar to telling someone to relax since both invalidate the person’s emotions, this one — for me — is more upsetting and has a tendency to set me off. As therapist Jennifer Rollin wrote for Psychology Today, “Telling someone with an anxiety disorder to ‘calm down,’ is akin to telling someone with allergies to ‘stop sneezing.’ Mental illnesses are not a choice. No one would choose to feel paralyzing levels of anxiety, and if the person was able to control their anxiety, they would.”

3“It’s all in your head.”

As Tess Koman wrote for Cosmopolitan, anxiety is in a person’s head, but that doesn’t make it any more controllable and saying such can just make the person with anxiety become more self-conscious.

4“Everything is going to be fine.”

Although “everything will be okay” and its variations seem like a safe thing to say, some people really don’t like to hear that when they are going through a tough time — and that pertains to anxiety attacks or other difficult moments. “Unfortunately, telling someone [who is dealing with anxiety] that ‘everything is going to be alright’ won’t do much, because nobody is going to believe it,” clinical psychologist Scott Bea told Huffington Post. “Reassurance sometimes can be a bad method. It makes them feel better for 20 seconds and then doubt can creep in again.”

5“Things could be worse.”

Yes, things could absolutely be worse. But that’s not helpful when someone is having an anxiety attack, as Violet Fenn wrote for Metro. This could actually make someone feel guilty for his or her feelings of anxiety, which might only make him or her spiral even more.

6“You don’t have to come.”

If you are hosting an event and are worried about how your friend or family member with anxiety will deal, you might think it would be good to give them an out so that he or she doesn’t think they are required to come. “But this only confirms that the person isn’t able to get through it and perpetuates her anxiety,” clinical psychologist Janine Domingues told Real Simple. “It makes the person feel sad and guilty for burdening another person.” Domingues says it’s better to continue to invite your friend with anxiety to events — even if he or she says no most of the time.

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