Anxiety is the experience of excessive worry or nervousness related to life experiences. Many people experience anxiety in some form at some point in their lives. However, some people struggle with anxiety on a much greater scale and with greater frequency. People who have intense or frequent anxiety often feel misunderstood and belittled by those around them, and have a hard time describing what they might be feeling in order to ask for help. What is unhelpful to say to someone with anxiety? What might you say instead?
Telling someone to calm down rarely, if ever, actually provides them the ability to calm down. Instead, it can come across as invalidating of their experience. Try instead: “Can we take a few deep breaths together so we can figure out what’s going on? What do you need from me?” This allows the person some space to calm themselves physically before they try to explain their emotions.
“I know how you feel.”
This is generally something you may want to avoid in any situations. It’s not possible to be inside someone else’s thoughts, so, while you may have had similar experiences, this statement is ultimately false. Try instead: “I can’t know exactly what you’re experiencing, but I have experienced some anxiety before. I have some coping skills that I have found helpful. Can I share them with you?” This provides the person the ability to decide if they want advice. If they don’t, they then have the space to tell you what they might need instead.
“You’re overreacting. It’s not that big of a deal.”
This, like “calm down”, is very invalidating. While the situation may not seem like a big deal to you, to the person experiencing anxiety, it is a very big deal. Try instead: “What happened? I’m here to listen if you want to talk about it.” This allows the person to be able to talk to you about it without feeling as though you have imposed your own judgement on their feelings.
“In a year this won’t matter.”
While this statement have the potential to be objectively true, it’s also entirely unhelpful. Telling someone how they will feel in the future does not negate how they are feeling now. Try instead: “Why don’t we take a walk outside, and we can talk about it if you want to.” This allows the person to get out of the physical space that they are in and get some fresh air. Fresh air and a change of scenery can help someone to change their perspective.
“I had something worse happen to me.”
This is called one-upping and makes the person experiencing anxiety feel as though their experience isn’t bad enough to merit their reaction. We can only know our own experiences and passing judgement on someone else’s experience as easier or harder than your own can come across as unkind. Try instead: “That sounds really anxiety provoking. I can see why you feel so worried about it.” This statement validates the person’s experience and provides them some language for what they’re feeling.
Talking about your feelings can make a big difference.
Whether or not you experience anxiety on a daily basis, you might experience some kind of worry about at some point in your life. The above statements do not only apply to people who are anxious every day. Learning more about how to effectively support friends and loved ones can help you to help yourself as well.
Think that you or a loved one might be struggling with anxiety? Give us a call at 217-203-2008 to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists. Contact us today to start finding your peace from within.