Many people suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and, fortunately, the problem is slowly becoming less stigmatized. Being open about our struggles is the best way to start healing them. If you have a loved one who’s dealing with anxiety, your support and acceptance can make a huge difference in their recovery.
That said, it can be easy to derail someone’s progress or alienate a friend if you aren’t aware of and sensitive to their struggles. With that in mind, here are seven common statements you might think are helpful, but really aren’t — plus what to say instead.
Anxiety is attack on self — fear manifested into projected outcomes. Most people with anxiety have spent an enormous amount of time focusing on gratitude. When you say “you should be grateful,”the anxious person hears, “I am not doing enough to be happier. I’m not grateful for enough in my life.”
People who suffer from anxiety are already dealing with guilt and shame. This statement implies that you think they aren’t doing enough. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that anyone suffering from chronic anxiety is trying with every fiber of their body to be happier.
When I was in the clutches of anxiety, my mother told me, “We are so happy you live close by, and we appreciate you.” Hearing those words reminded me that I was enough as I was, and that I was valued. Appreciation is stronger than gratitude, and everyone needs to know they are appreciated.
This goes on the list of things that every anxiety sufferer has tried, and probably does regularly. Just because something works for you, don’t assume it will be a magic bullet for someone else.
Meditation is one path to peace. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and the goal is to find peace, however you can. Telling an anxious person what they should do is never going to make as much of a difference as much as helping them
This is not helpful to someone who is suffering from anxiety, because anxiety projects illusions.
Anxiety is an incredibly isolating experience, so reaching out to say, “I am here to help you and be a friend” makes a world of difference for sufferers.
This implies that the disease this person is dealing with is actually just a matter of willpower and personal focus. That’s disheartening and condescending.
This gives the power back to the person feeling stuck, and communicates to them that you’re on their team. It’s incredibly reassuring to feel that someone is there for you, helping you move forward.
Yes, it’s a mental issue, but this statement suggests that you just need to handle your irrational thoughts. It totally trivializes feelings that are crippling.
The less you get stuck in your head, the easier it will be to feel more joy in the moment. Walk in a park, visit a bookstore together, or take a yoga class. Engaging in activities together helps keep your mind present, pushing anxiety out of the prime spot.
This is an incredibly common thing for anxious people to hear, but it’s also terribly condescending. It suggests that you think the person doesn’t deserve to feel anxious based on the limit information we have about their life.
You have to assume you don’t know what’s really going on with someone. We almost never know the deepest struggles people are facing. Rather than operate based on the surface knowledge you have, offer to lend a hand. Show you’re there and willing to lighten their burden.
Anxious people generally know this, and already feel guilty about the anxiety they are suffering for that very reason. Being reminded of it actually makes them feel worse.
Are you sensing a theme? What anxious people don’t need is prescriptive advice that most of us aren’t actually qualified to give. The most helpful thing anyone can do is be encouraging, offer support, and withhold judgment.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older — that’s 18% of the population.
If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic anxiety, our Delray Beach anxiety treatment program can provide support for your loved ones.