7 things people with anxiety want their loved ones to say
Last year, HelloGiggles published a piece entitled “7 things people with anxiety want their loved ones to know.” Out of the outpouring of responses and comments, one of the biggest questions was, “Great, that makes sense — but what can I do to help?” Here’s what the author had to say.
With disturbing clarity, those of us with anxiety can picture the true terror of anxiety attacks. The sweaty palms, the rapid pounding in our chest, the ache all over our body born from tight muscles — all of the physical symptoms can be painful. But what really makes anxiety attacks crippling is how they affect the mind. Suddenly, mundane tasks seem overwhelming. Fear courses through our veins. We feel like we’re drowning, and for those few minutes, we have no idea how to cope.
We also know how difficult it can be for others to navigate our anxiety attacks. Most of us have known our fair share of people who refused to understand or acknowledge our struggles as real.
That’s what makes us adore you, our loved ones, even more. We know it can be so difficult, but here are seven things you can say that can help us both in this process.
1. “How can I help?”
Just like everyone’s anxiety can be different, our individual attacks can be different. One day, we may need to talk it out; the next, we may feel completely overwhelmed by the mere concept of speaking. We may have no idea how you can help. For that reason, you may not get a direct answer to this question; in fact, don’t even expect one. If we don’t respond, just put your arms around us and help us breathe until we can speak.
The end game isn’t the point here. These four little words are unassuming; they project nothing but kindness and warmth. Just knowing that there’s someone there, non-judgmental, solid, ready to help us up when we’ve fallen — that in itself means more than you know.
2. “We have all the time in the world.”
It doesn’t matter if we have to go to work, or if we’re going to be late for an appointment, or if So-And-So’s party starts in five minutes. We can reschedule. We can be late. But one thing we can’t do is swallow our anxiety to deal with later on. Just like any other illness, anxiety is not convenient.
Never try to rush us when we’re going through an anxiety attack. Our thoughts are moving so quickly right now that they’re blurred, overwhelming, looming, constricting our lungs; add a time constraint, and that blur of thought will only grow stronger and darker.
But saying “It’s OK; we don’t have to go anywhere until you’re ready” — that’s giving us just a little control back. For just a few minutes, you are granting us the ability to pause our world so we can stop it from spinning on its axis, faster and faster before our very eyes. Sure, we may be half an hour late to that party, but we will be able to enjoy it — enjoy it with you.
3. “If you can, talk to me about what’s going through your mind.”
Often, in the middle of an attack, we know that what we’re thinking is totally irrational. . . but we can’t talk ourselves out of it. We feel like we’re splitting into two — the anxiety demanding to make itself known and felt, all while the rational part tries to regain control. That rational part makes us all-too-keenly aware of how we may seem to others, and we may be afraid to talk about it, even if talking about it is exactly what we need. It feels like our brain has clashed in a bloody civil war.
Asking us about our fears — instead of trying to talk us out of them ASAP — is acknowledging our struggles. Providing us a safe space to share our thoughts without fear of judgment is one of the most precious gifts you can possibly give us.
4. “You are not crazy.”
If we are able to express what we’re thinking, it may come out in jumbled, seemingly disconnected bursts. It may seem over the top and ridiculous. We totally get this, and we know it may be impossible for you to see from our perspective. For that reason, we may keep saying things like, “I probably sound crazy” or “I don’t even know why I’m worrying about this.”
By responding to us with this simple phrase, you’re reminding us that we’re not broken — that our process doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with us. You’re reminding us that even if we think differently than you, our struggles are real, and we’re not alone.
5. “I love you so much.”
Anxiety can be an incredibly lonely affair. It can throw us into a pit of self-loathing that forces us to question even our closest relationships. It can make us think you hate us, even if you’ve given us no indication of this. This is when we need to be reminded that we’re loved, even at our weakest point.
6. “You will always have me.”
Everyone has an ideal image of themselves that they want to present to the world: the strongest, happiest, most confident version possible. When you see us during an anxiety attack, you are seeing the exact opposite, and during that menacing blur of thoughts, we can spiral into believing, truly believing, that our anxiety will make you leave — that we’ll scare you away.
7. Don’t say anything at all — just be there.
We know this is frustrating. If there was a simple solution, we would tell you in a heartbeat; we’re so sorry that we don’t know the answer. Even if you just sit there, silently supporting us, helping us, holding our hand, you’re making our world brighter. You are our steady light at the end of our tunnel, and being there for us means so much more than we can express.
We know it can be hard, but we love you for it. And we always will.
Image via author’s Instagram