7 things not to say to your loved one with anxiety
It’s not easy to watch someone you love suffer from anxiety. You want to do everything you can to make them feel better, to fix their problem, to ease their discomfort. But even with the best intentions, it’s hard to know what to say to help improve the situation. While there are plenty of amazing things you can say to help someone feel better, there are also a few totally reasonable comments that could end up making things harder for the person with anxiety. Here a handful of well-meaning statements you might want to avoid when you’re trying to help a loved one cope with anxiety.
1. “Calm down.”
We know how frustrating this may seem, and we desperately wish we could “calm down” at will. If we could, we wouldn’t have this problem. But we aren’t actively choosing to feel this way. Telling us to “calm down” is like telling someone who broke their arm to make their pain evaporate with their mind.
2. “Try to stop thinking about it.”
We are trying. We are trying so hard. But it’s like walking around the world with a monster behind us — a big, dark terrifying mass that only we can see. And it’s feeding on us, distracting us from what we love, distracting us from living our lives to the fullest.
We can’t forget about the monster breathing down our necks. We can’t just wish it away. All we can do is acknowledge it, and try our hardest to grapple with it.
3. “Others have it worse.”
We wish that focusing on the dark in the world would help us see the light in our own lives. But it just makes us feel severely guilty, as if we’re broken — as if we’re supposed to be happy all the time, or else we’re taking our good fortune for granted.
Flip this phrase on its head, and it becomes “you can’t be happy because others have it better.” Just like there isn’t a finite amount of happiness in this world, there isn’t a finite amount of pain. Ours is real, and it’s crushing us.
4. “Don’t be so pessimistic!”
We don’t mean to be negative. We know that we come to the worst possible conclusion instantaneously, and that can make us seem like pessimists. Between anxiety bouts, we’re grateful for what we have, and we’re grateful for you. It’s the monster whispering in our ear that makes us fearful, that makes us terrified that this time, the worst will happen. . . that this time, the monster is real.
5. “I’ve been there. I get really stressed out sometimes, too.”
We deeply appreciate you trying to empathize with us by getting on our level, but depending on the context of this statement, it can feel trivializing. Because stress is different from anxiety, it feels like a comparison between a hard day at work and the crippling panic that leaves us struggling to breathe. We want to be understood, and you are amazing for trying to do that, but it’s also OK if you haven’t experienced this level of anxiety. Just your being supportive helps the most.
6. “Have you tried (meditation, eating clean, yoga)?”
Yes, these things are clinically proven to help with anxiety. But it’s all about the timing. Telling us the next day, after our panic has subsided, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about that anxiety attack you had the other day, and I thought I’d let you know about some benefits of meditation I just read” — that is totally helpful. But in the grip of anxiety, these suggestions just feel like more things we should be doing but can’t.
7. “It’s really not a big deal.”
We know you’re trying to dispel our worrying. And we appreciate that. But saying this makes us feel like there’s something truly, deeply wrong with us that even our loved ones don’t understand. It’s a big deal to us in that moment. It can feel like an invisible force, wrapping itself slowly around our lungs, our brains, our hearts.
We don’t expect you to see that force for exactly what it is, or comprehend what it does to us. And you shouldn’t have to. But we need you to trust that it’s there. We need you to help us believe that we can get fight it off, that we can get through it stronger than ever. If you can do this, we promise that we will be the best version of ourselves we can be — for you, the people who stay with us when we’re unsteady on our feet.
For you, our loved ones.