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.
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.”
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.”
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.