Three of the worst things you can say to someone who is anxious

1) “You worry too much!”. I’m hoping that there are at least some of you out there who feel like it’s common sense that this isn’t something helpful to say. But I’m surprised by how often I hear it. Even from people who know me well and should know better by this point. That sentence is the most dismissive, minimizing, and condescending thing to hear when you are freaking out. What often makes me laugh is when the person thinks they are telling me something that is ground breaking. I often have to bite my tongue so as not to retort with sarcasm: “Well gee! I hadn’t even considered that. Thank you SO much, I’ll stop worrying right now!”.  Believe it or not, I am welllll aware of the fact that I worry too much. Yet it doesn’t stop me from worrying. What would be more helpful to hear is some sympathy of empathy, if you can manage it. If you’re able to put yourself in my shoes, it’s more comforting to hear someone say “That would stress me out too” or “anxiety it tough, I know how draining it is to worry all the time…”. If you can’t do that, you don’t have to patronize me. But you can just validate what I’m feeling with something like: “I can see how upset you are about this, let’s chat it out”.

2) “Just don’t let it get to you”. A variation of this is people saying “Just don’t think about it” or “Forget about it”. Trust me. If I would I could. It’s not like just flipping a light switch on and off. It’s frustrating to a person with anxiety since, as I said above, I am often aware that what I’m thinking is super unrealistic, that I’m getting worked up over something that will likely end up being be nothing, or that I’m jumping to some pretty silly conclusions. The thing is, despite the rational voice that you try to listen to in your head, there is that louder, extremely intrusive, irrational little voice that overrides this, and is screaming at you that the worst case scenario is happening. It doesn’t matter how much I try and distract myself. Sometimes, there isn’t much you can do or say to me once I’m worked up. For some people, it really is just as simple as “not thinking about it”, and that must be nice. Unfortunately, sometimes, my state of panic just has to run its course. It doesn’t mean you can’t try to reason with me, offer alternative scenarios, and so forth. It just means you can’t expect to wave a magic wand and make it disappear. Sometimes I just need to let me sit with it. It’s actually something I’m working on myself; having the understanding that over time, the anxiety subsides, and that in the interim I can tolerate it.  It might be annoying to you to have to hear my obsess about something, but on the inside it’s sometimes my way of coping with things, and actually helps me with working it out on a deeper level.

3) “I can’t believe that’s actually crossed your mind!”. There are several variations of this one as well. But the core message to me is that it’s not ok for me to have the thoughts I’m having, that you’re shocked and disgusted, and ultimately judging me. So, if you say that, naturally, it’s very unlikely that I will ever confide in you again. And again, to re-iterate my first two points, I often realize that some of the thoughts that race through my brain wouldn’t even be a shadow of a thought that flutters across most people’s minds. But the bottom line is the thoughts *do* pop up in my head. They are unwilling and often upsetting. It’s not realistic to prevent the thoughts from happening, it’s more so about dealing with them when they arise.

The bottom line? If you say any of the above things to me, I am very likely going to shut down, and not trust you to take my concerns seriously in the future. I understand that not everyone can be my counselor. But I am always (very) appreciative of the people who can hear me out, and somehow manage to gently guide me to understanding how irrational I am being, without making me feel like a crazy person 😉

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