Comments can feel like they're harmless. With these innocuous words, people often hope to make a connection with the person they are saying them to. The problem is, many times there are underlying intentions that aren't as innocent as they might seem. By learning what some of those intentions might be and how harmful they really can be, it may help you become more aware of the ways in which your actions can hurt others with anxiety.
It’s not just little comments that matter either. Using words like "crazy" or "psycho" or even just annoying comments about how anxious people should just "get over it," have real consequences for those who struggle with anxiety on a regular basis.
Here are 10 comments that might not seem harmful to you but can be very painful for those that suffer from anxiety:
1. "There's nothing to be worried about."
While this statement might be said in an attempt to offer reassurance, it's not going to help. Those with anxiety often have a hard time distinguishing between worrying and being prepared for something. They may feel like avoiding preparation or thinking about potential issues is going to make them feel worse or more anxious, but the reality is that it's only adding unnecessary stress on top of what they already have. Telling them there's nothing to worry about doesn't actually make it so, however, it can lead them down a spiral of negative thoughts.
2. "Do you ever stop worrying?"
This is a statement often made by people who don't know much about anxiety or mental health. To them, it seems perfectly normal and natural to worry, but they don't realize that when someone with anxiety goes through an episode of worry or panic, they are actually going through significant and real negative feelings. This can make them feel like something is wrong with them because they aren't like everyone else. Statements like this can make them question their own emotions.
3. "You should just deal with your problems."
This is a statement that often comes from someone who doesn't know what to say or how to handle a situation. They might mean well and want to help, but they don't realize that their advice isn't actually going to make it better. If the person you are speaking with is already dealing with significant anxiety, this may seem like a good idea but will likely only increase their negative feelings. Telling them that they should just deal with their emotions won't help them figure out what those feelings are or what they can do about them.
4. "Everyone's got problems. What's the big deal?"
This is a statement that can be interpreted as unsupportive. It's not actually meant to be unsupportive, but it could give the impression that people who have certain issues aren't allowed to complain about them. Without giving them any kind of specific examples, this is a statement that won't give the person with anxiety any helpful information. Instead, it can make them feel like they have no one to turn to for help and leave them feeling isolated and frustrated.
5. "You should just accept things the way they are."
This is a statement that seems like it should be supportive, but its actual effect on people with anxiety can border on being hurtful and discouraging. It's a statement that has the potential to decrease their ability to work through problems and learn from them in the first place. Telling them to just accept things the way they are can make them feel helpless and not like they could do anything about it.
6. "You're too sensitive."
This a statement often made by people who don't know much about mental health and how it works. Telling someone with anxiety that they are overreacting can leave them feeling disempowered, because they might not know how to help themselves. If you don't understand how anxiety works, you can't fully understand what someone is going through. You can't see the world through their eyes or know what it's like to go through an anxiety attack or panic attack.
7. "There's no reason to be anxious."
This is another statement that seems harmless but actually has a deeper meaning that can impact those who suffer with anxiety. Pushing someone away from their feelings, telling them that they shouldn't feel a certain way, makes them feel invalidated and unable to process what they are going through, which will ultimately make them feel worse instead of better. If you don't understand how anxiety works, there's nothing wrong with asking questions and trying to get more information. Anxiety attacks aren't rational–they simply happen.
8. "You're being ridiculous."
This is a comment that's intended to be helpful in trying to put things into perspective. At first, it might seem like an appropriate statement, but this person might not realize that it's actually hurtful. Anxiety makes people feel like they are going crazy, or capable of doing or saying things they would have never expected they would do or say before they experienced it. It can feel like something is terribly wrong with them, so when someone responds by saying that their feelings are irrational or ridiculous, it makes them feel even worse about themselves and their emotions than ever before.
9. "But you're not going to die."
This is a comment that may seem like it's being useful, but doesn't actually help. Comments like this may seem to put things into perspective for the person with anxiety, but it can create more feelings of self-consciousness and hurt. Those with anxiety might know that they aren't going to die as a result of their panic attack or other form of anxiety, but they still feel terrible in the moment and need some kind of support. Remember, there's nothing wrong with having feelings–you shouldn't push them aside or tell them otherwise. Instead, try to listen and ask questions instead.
10. "But your anxiety isn't dangerous. You're making a big deal out of nothing."
This statement could come from a place of wanting to help, but it's something you shouldn't say. Anxiety is an involuntary response to your environment, and there's not much that can be done in the moment to control it. It's okay for someone to be anxious about car accidents or other things that can result in a serious injury or death. They still may experience panic attacks because of it, but the threat itself isn't something you should dismiss them for feeling anxious about.
The truth is, everyone has the need to feel understood and appreciated. But there are some things to watch out for when trying to provide help and support. It's understandable that you might want to be supportive and give your perspective about what's going on for the person with anxiety, but remember that you can't really truly know how they feel until you've experienced what it's like yourself.
If someone is experiencing a panic attack or other kind of anxiety, chances are they're feeling disoriented and confused by what they're feeling. They don't necessarily have the same understanding of their emotions as someone who doesn't have anxiety or panic attacks themselves–they just know what they are experiencing right now.
Written by Harshita Sevaldasani