what not to say
‘You don’t look like you have anxiety’
‘Try thinking about something else’
‘It’s not that bad’
‘You just need to be more positive’
However, an anxious brain works VERY differently.
my anxious brain
Sometimes, I might be standing there smiling at you and nodding along with the conversation, but in my head I am in panic mode…. Is this person bored talking to me? Do I have something in my teeth? Is my body language showing I am interested in what they are saying? Can they tell I am fidgeting? Did I leave the gas stove on? Can they tell I just tuned out then to think about the stove? I should say something funny. Oh goodness, I wish I’d never said that. They probably think I’m weird. Do they think I’m weird? Oh, thank goodness, someone else has joined the conversation.
And I know that most of my anxious thoughts are irrational and unnecessary (sometimes on the verge of crazy) but at the time a panic attack hits or during intense feelings of anxiety, my thoughts and feelings are VERY real to me and I can’t switch them off.
So, even if certain things are said and done with the best intentions, we can still sometimes feel misunderstood, isolated and alone; and no-one is at fault here – it’s just the ‘joy’ of the twisted thing that is anxiety.
So, what the heck ARE you supposed to do and say to people with anxiety you ask??
what to say
Over the years, I have found the following things to be MOST helpful when I am in a state of overwhelming anxiety:
- just being next to me helps. Knowing I have someone close by to support me is a wonderful feeling.
- listen, but try not to judge. I KNOW that what I am saying is ‘crazy talk’ and I am feeling hypersensitive, so telling me ‘not to worry about it’ just adds to the anxiety.
- remind me to breathe. As silly as that may sound (and as annoying as it is to hear) I need to be reminded to breathe. Regulating your breathing is so, so important in a state of panic, and something anxious people struggle with. Slowing my breathing will help calm me and reduce the lightheadedness.
- try not to make a fuss. When panic hits, it can be quite embarrassing and overwhelming, so if you sense I am a little edgy, try to direct me calmly and subtly, to a more quiet space. Large crowds and lots of noise can cause more anxiety, as does fussing over me. Space is good, as is fresh air.
- be aware of my signs/signals. When I am anxious or on the verge of a panic attack, I get quite fidgety and a bit aloof. My movements are a bit jerky and I tend to become a bit erratic. (Using a safe word, or having a signal, can help alert people around us that panic is setting in).
- try to stay calm. I know, I know, it’s a bit rich of ME asking YOU to be calm when I’m asking you not to tell me to ‘stay calm’!!!! But if you are calm, it helps me stay calm. If you are flustered, I get flustered. If neither of us is in control, that freaks me out even more 😉
- ask questions that only require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Trying to talk while you’re nauseous, lightheaded and struggling to breath is quite tricky.
- once panic has subsided give me a moment to compose myself. Anxiety and panic is both mentally and physically exhausting. I may just need some time to gather my thoughts and process the moment.
- and (when not in the middle of a panic attack) I love when people ask me questions and want to learn about what happens when I’m anxious. Ask me LOTS of questions. Ask me how it feels. Ask me what you should do if panic sets in. Ask me where I prefer to be when I’m anxious. Ask me all the questions you have rattling around in your head. I promise, it makes things easier for you, and for me.
be open and honest
People who don’t suffer from anxiety themselves can find it really tricky helping others who do suffer. But I promise you, we appreciate every effort you make to try to help us. Although at times it may not seem that way, it means so much knowing we have people in our corner; people who only want the best for us and hate seeing us suffer.
I can’t stress how important it is to be open and honest about anxiety; both as a helper and a sufferer. Communicating your thoughts and feelings, although confronting, can make the world of difference. If, as a helper, you are unsure about HOW or WHEN to help, just ask. And if, as a sufferer, you are too fearful to reach out for help, I send you loads and loads of strength and courage to reach out that hand – even if it’s a little pinky finger to start with, I can assure you, it’s TOTALLY worth it.
Strength in numbers; strength in mind and heart.