Don’t say these things to people struggling with anxiety

Don't say these things to people with anxiety

You know what’s worse than struggling with anxiety? The ignorant advice people give you. Some of these people, or probably even most of them, mean it well. They just want to help. But the advice they give is often either patronizing, harmful, useless, or a combination of those.

If you have a friend who’s struggling with anxiety, or any other mental illness, don’t say any of these things. They won’t like you for it. Instead, show them you’re there for them, listen to their worries and offer help when they need it.

Just stop worrying

If I knew how to just stop worrying about something, I would have fixed my anxiety years ago. Believe me, I constantly try to just stop worrying, it just doesn’t work that way. If anxiety could be fixed by telling yourself not to worry, no one would struggle with it. It’s not that easy.

In fact, telling me to just stop worrying often causes my anxiety to increase. So don’t say it ever again. It’s ignorant, disrespectful and will most likely make the person with anxiety feel worse about themselves.

Why don’t you try to be more positive

If it was as easy as just becoming more positive, I would be the happiest person on earth. And believe me, I have tried to be more positive. I even tried the positivity challenge, where you force yourself to only have positive thoughts for a few weeks, and that actually made my anxiety worse. Just like someone with cancer won’t get better just by telling themselves everything is fine, faking positivity won’t make the anxiety go away.

Meditation will fix it

Meditation might work for certain people, but it’s not a magical fix for everyone. I tried meditating on a daily basis for one year, and it would only make my anxiety worse. I became hyper-aware of all the things I didn’t like about myself and felt generally really uncomfortable. These days, meditation is working for me, but only because I’m in therapy and because I switched to guided meditation.

Calm down

When I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack, don’t tell me to calm down. Please, don’t. It will only make me angry. If you want me to calm down, sit down with me and listen to what i have to say. Let me talk about my feelings, ask me how you can help me and show me you care. Do these things and I will calm down and feel better about the situation. Tell me to calm down and you’ll only be making it worse.

You’re exaggerating, nothing bad will happen

Rationally, I know my negative thoughts are caused by anxiety and that nothing bad will happen. And that’s what I find annoying about anxiety. No matter how many times I tell myself nothing bad will happen, the anxiety doesn’t want to believe it. I still feel tense, scared and restless, and I keep experiencing negative thoughts.

Next time you see someone having an anxiety attack, don’t tell them they’re exaggerating. Ask them what’s on their mind, what they’re afraid of and if there’s anything you can do to make the situation less scary.

Maybe it’s just your hormones

First of all, no. It’s probably not my hormones causing my anxiety. My anxiety is caused by being verbally and physically abused my entire childhood,being undervalued by my teachers and my family, homophobia, being sexually harassed, almost getting raped, bad friends and a dysfunctional family.

Secondly, it is true that my period sometimes makes my anxiety worse. But this only happens three to five days before getting my period, and I only get my period once every three months. To put this in numbers, whenever I get an anxiety attack, there’s a 0% chance it’s actually caused by my hormones, and only a 3-5% chance it’s made worse because of my period.

So, how can I help?

So, how can I help?

Listen

It may sound like something small, but I think it’s one of the most important things you can do for people dealing with a (mental) illness or other personal issues. Just sit down with them and listen. Knowing that there will be people I can talk to, who will listen to what I have to say and try to understand me, is a huge help for me when I’m feeling down.

Ask questions

Ask if they need anything, if there’s anything you can do to help them. If they’re scared about something, ask what you can do to make it less scary. Maybe all they need is someone to talk to, or a hug, or someone to accompany them to their first therapy appointment, or even just a cup of tea.

Plan a fun activity with them

One of my highlights each week is going to a hot yoga class with a friend. It’s nothing super-social, it’s 90 minutes of working out in a hot room, but it means so much to me. It makes exercising less scary, and I have the chance to talk about my day with someone.

Give them some space

As a kid, when I felt bad and just wanted to sit alone in my room and think stuff over for a bit, my parents would never respect that wish. Instead, they either got angry at me for feeling bad, ignored my feelings and give me chores to do or forced me to talk to them.

Don’t do this. Not to your kids, your partner, your friends or even strangers. It just makes things worse. Instead, give them some space to take care of themselves and regain some energy.

Be there for them when they need them, but also take a step back when they want to be left alone.

Treat them as an equal

I worry a lot, I often have anxiety attacks, I get scared easily and have low self-esteem (it’s all improving, though!), but I’m not disabled, stupid or incapable of doing things. I’m pretty smart, know how to get stuff done, know how to be a friend and know how to take care of myself. I understand things. Treat me with respect, treat me as an equal, not as someone who’s sick. It will make me feel better about myself, and I will trust you more.

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26 Comments

  1. Do you know what? My brother suffers from bad anxiety, and I am ashamed to admit I did say some of these things to him before. Obviously I regret it, and it was before I knew what was really going on. I feel so guilty, this is such a great post & more people need to see it!

    1. Oh, I’ve heard that one too. A lot. Can’t believe I didn’t include it in the post 😅 I like yoga a lot (cause it’s fun), but it doesn’t really help my mental health that much. I get this temporary happiness boost right after finishing the session, but within half an hour afterwards that’s gone. I feel like the only thing that’s been helping me improve a lot is therapy.

  2. Good tips. One of my friends use to have depression and at some point I just realized that trying to give her an easy solution (like exercise more or try to be more positive) isn’t possible. Just being with her, listening and trying to be nice in general were a lot better things to do. Though I don’t think that it’s one friend who can fix anyone but at least it’s possible to make that person feel a bit less depressed.

  3. I suffer quite badly from anxiety and I often get the ‘be more positive’ comment. If it was that easy, trust me I would have been as positive as possible! I’m really grateful that my closest friends understand and have helped me through worse time. This is a good list of tips and I might pass them on to a few people to help them understand a bit better.

  4. I actually write a series called ‘The Anxiety Files’ and I’m due to post something similar to this. You’re definitely right, these are such ignorant things to say. I’ve been suffering for 11 years now (over half my life) and the amount of times I’ve heard these stresses me out.

  5. I get the “just stop worrying” a lot or the golden one from my mum is “you just need to get out of the house” – which isn’t helpful because I have social anxiety and leaving the house for anything other than work can be difficult.

    Your “how can I help” section is really good! I’ve never really found a way to put it into words but you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Jamie-Leigh x x
    http://missjamieleigh.com

  6. Ahhhh, this is SO true! I suffer with anxiety so bad, I can’t even explain. People always say to me “stop worrying about it” Yeah, that’s easier said than done! And when people tell me to calm down… Argh! These are such great tips, thank you for sharing xx

  7. Listening and asking questions is the way to do. I used to do the mistakes you list – but you quickly realize it’s not easy for everyone to just do those “advise”. If it was… they wouldn’t be having anxiety!

  8. Listening is so important but it’s really something that others often struggle with, especially those that are closest to us – they just want to ‘fix’ things but don’t hear us when we explain that they can’t. It’s the ‘stop worrying’ one I find most infuriating, to be honest.

  9. So irritating when people don’t understand what anxiety is and just tell you not to worry and to calm down. I love that you’ve written how to help, I wish people would listen more! xo

  10. This is a good post but doubt anyone will take head. I have suffered from anxiety for years, the worst one for me is calm down or quit dwelling and cheer up. The point is people who suffer know what they need to do to calm down but others seem to make it worse.

  11. What a brilliant post (DAMN) I wish I had thought of this first! I have struggled with anxiety my whole life, I can play it off at times and at others it’s debilitating so some think I’m ‘having it on’. It feels horrendous 🙁

  12. This post is really useful, I know so many people struggling from anxiety and unfortunately it’s becoming so common these days, yet there’s so little understanding about it x

  13. Brilliant post, there’s nothing more frustrating than being told not to worry! I totally agree that asking is usually the best bet – everyone is different, so what helps one person won’t necessarily help another. Glad to hear things are a little bit better for you now, though <3

  14. I don’t suffer with anxiety personally but so many people I know and close friends (and family!) do suffer and it’s horrendous for them. I absolutely agree with the tips on how to help too. At first it is difficult to understand when you are not able to empathise but when you do understand the situation by asking questions and listening it is much easier to recognise the signs of anxiety in your closed ones x