Anxiety is a tough emotion to describe. Without really experiencing that paralyzing fear that creates a handful of other uncomfortable side effects, it’s not an emotion that everyone can easily identify with. Worse yet, the people who aren’t sure how to sympathize or empathize with anxiety and phobia sufferers can come off as if they don’t take the symptoms seriously.
Even if your family members are in it with you and are doing what they can to help, it can sometimes be difficult for them to truly understand the struggles you endure. And sometimes, even people with the best intentions of helping you can mess up. So when it comes to anxiety and phobia sufferers, there are just a few things that you should probably avoid saying… and that we’re pretty tired of hearing:
“Just get over it.”
It’s not that simple. Climbing a wall isn’t possible without places to put your hands and feet. The only way to climb without those ledges is if you are secretly Spider Man or you are a ridiculously talented free runner. Typically, though, people with anxiety aren’t exactly the super hero free running types (just the thought of that makes me anxious).
But in all seriousness, as much as you would like your loved one or friend to get over their anxiety, I can bet they want it to be gone far more than you do. It’s not fun being a prisoner to your own mind, and more times than not it’s not a matter of wanting to climb over the wall, it’s not knowing how.
“Oh I’m the same way. *Blank* also freaks me out.”
Empathy is a wonderful way to show your friends you care, but when it comes to anxiety and phobias it can sometimes make matters worse. Unless you can truly understand the anxiety and phobia, saying you feel the same way about heights or spiders won’t make us feel any better.
There’s a pretty big difference between getting a little nervous on your way up a hill for a roller coaster and not being able to go to a theme park, let alone think about one. We know you mean well and we really appreciate it, but sometimes all we really need to hear is that you’re here for us and then top that off with a hug. That’s better than all the empathy in the world.
“How can you be scared of something that isn’t scary?”
We don’t know. We really don’t, and asking us this isn’t going to help us figure it out any sooner. The entire premise of anxiety and phobias is that typically the person is afraid of something that is usually considered harmless. That’s what makes anxieties and phobias so difficult.
For example, at some point in your life, there’s a chance that you’ve been startled by a rogue butterfly that came from nowhere (…or maybe that’s just me). But if you have a phobia of butterflies, and you’re not sure where it came from, hearing someone question something you feel is a serious topic is a little disheartening. It’s almost like you don’t believe their anxiety or phobia is legitimate, and that hurts.
Speaking of things that will dishearten an anxiety or phobia sufferer… It doesn’t matter if it’s a nervous laugh, a mocking laugh, or you feel you’re laughing with us – please avoid laughing. While I can’t speak for everyone, chances are if we are opening up about our anxiety to you, we truly value your opinion and want you there to help us along the way.
Laughing at something we take very seriously isn’t the best way to start this verbal trust fall. By laughing, you’ve already dropped us flat on our backs, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of it yet.
However, if the person telling you about their anxiety is at a point where they can laugh about it too, and you feel the laughter is genuine, don’t be afraid to let out a chuckle. That laugh shows you’re on the same page with us, just try not to forget that it’s still a serious topic.
“Don’t be so dramatic” or “Stop overreacting.”
Please, I beg of you, try to avoid saying this to someone who suffers from anxiety or a phobia. Most people who deal with anxieties or phobias are fully aware of how over-the-top their reactions are. It’s something we feel we can’t control, because if we thought we could, we probably wouldn’t be suffering from the anxiety or phobia in the first place.
If you’re not familiar with how anxiety or phobias affect someone, it can be easy to get frustrated and lash out with one of these phrases. Chances are if our reactions are frustrating you, they are frustrating us just as much – if not more. We are already telling ourselves not to be so dramatic, so hearing it from someone else can be difficult to handle. Especially if that someone is a family member, best friend or significant other.
So, next time you are talking with someone who deals with anxiety or a phobia, just remember: all we really need is someone to be our rock. We just want to know that there is someone out there who will be there for us when we have a panic attack, or honestly can’t handle the situation. We just want to know that when our fight-or-flight kicks in, and we always pick flight, that you’ll be there waiting for us with open arms. And maybe some Ben & Jerry’s for after we relax – but that’s really up to you.