I used to think anxiety was something someone just over exaggerated and my honest thought was, “Just get over it.” Ohh gosh I hate to admit that because those 4 little words make my whole-body cringe now.
If you don’t deal with anxiety, then let me fill you in on a little secret. If we could ‘just get over it’ we would. We don’t like when our nerves go haywire, the stomach aches, the panic racing through our veins, or the bursts of anger that happen when life becomes just too much.
We hate how it steals simple moments of joy from us and can turn a great day into one straight from hell in a matter of seconds.
If we could flip a switch, turn it off, and move on with life WE WOULD. Dealing with anxiety isn’t fun or something we choose to live with.
So, by you saying just get over it, calm down, stop freaking out, don’t let it get to you is counterproductive. When you say these things it actually makes the situation worse. How?
Well, let me give you a real-life example. Most of my anxiety deals with sicknesses. Even though my head knows that a cold is just a cold, and everything will be fine my body reacts as if my kid just caught the plague. You may be thinking this is the cause of COVID, unfortunately no. My anxiety with sicknesses started in my 3rd pregnancy and was made worse when my baby caught RSV at 5 weeks old and was in the PICU for 4 days.
So, when my child starts to cough my head automatically says, “It’s ok, it’s just a cold and it may even be nothing. She will be fine.” Unfortunately, at the same time my body is going into overdrive dumping, what feels like, a truck load of adrenaline in my body and my heart starts beating out of my chest. When this happens, I can barely think straight and end up snapping at my kids because in that moment I can’t deal with life in general. If it goes on for too long my body will even start shaking.
In the middle of one of these attacks if I hear anything along the lines of, “just calm down” it makes the whole situation worse. I get increasingly angry at the fact that I can’t just calm down, then I start over analyzing why I can’t calm down and go straight down the rabbit hole of ‘why can’t I just turn this off, I must be broken, what’s wrong with me, I hate this, life isn’t fair….. and so on.
Do you see how my body and my head are having 2 completely different responses? Great! Now, can you see how someone’s response of ‘just calm down’ or ‘get over it’ is counterproductive? Awesome. Glad I could explain that one for you.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU NOT DO?
Now that we have the most obvious out of the way let’s talk about some other things you shouldn’t do when trying to help someone who deals with anxiety.
Don’t get mad when they have an episode.
We pick up on everything and just because you aren’t physically saying, ‘get over it’ doesn’t mean we don’t see it all over your face and mannerisms while we are in the middle of an episode.
Don’t hover over them.
Most of the time when someone’s in the middle of an episode they don’t want to talk about it so just let them ride it out. For me this is very important. I have to do other stuff to distract myself and when someone’s asking me a million questions and asking me to analyze and get to the root of this issue my body and mind go into overdrive and I can’t think. This makes the episode late 10x longer, so back off and just give them space.
Don’t talk about your spouse’s or friend’s anxiety to someone else.
Dealing with anxiety can make someone feel very vulnerable. So, for us to be talked about beyond those we choose to share this with, can make us feel betrayed. It would be like your wife sharing with all her friends that her spouse deals with erectile dysfunction. Can you imagine how much that would hurt? It’s not your fault your body isn’t reacting how it should, guess what… neither is ours. So, keep this to yourself unless your spouse or friend already shares their struggle with others.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Try to walk in their shoes…
Anxiety is a hard thing for people understand, especially for those who don’t deal with it. When your friend or spouse aren’t in the middle of an episode ask them to tell you how an anxiety attack feels or what it does to their body? Listen and then try to imagine how it feels to deal with this on a weekly or daily basis. Then, be sympathetic.
Ask them how you can help!
After you hear them explain how an anxiety attack feels then ask what you can do to help when they’re having one. For me a bath or some music helps so my husband knows to keep the kids out of the bathroom and give me space. He also helps paly interference with the kids, so I don’t have to deal with temper tantrums and fights in the middle of an episode. He also knows that talking about it in the middle of it makes it worse she is stays quiet and lets me work through it.
Some people may seek professional help and need a prescription while others may find coping mechanisms that help them manage. Whatever path they choose to take you should support. Dealing with something that a lot of people just don’t understand is hard enough, we shouldn’t have to deal with people judging us for the kind of help we seek out.
I get that anxiety is hard to understand, especially since everyone has different triggers and responses, but in reality, we don’t need you to understand as much as we need you to just support and comfort us through it. Sometimes the best thing for us is to know that we have someone in our corner cheering us on and holding us up when we have no strength to stand.
But I do hope that after reading this you understand anxiety a little bit more and are able and willing to help those around you that deal with it.
A well-written post, Laci -thanks 🙂