Anxiety – it sounds like such a harmless thing. After all, everyone has this emotion. It keeps us safe by warning us of dangerous situations, gives us energy to complete a difficult task, and reminds us why we should not do risky things. Without anxiety, people would be carefree but injured more often and worse at analyzing situations.
Yet, people who have generalized anxiety disorder (or any other type of anxiety) are crippled by thoughts, worries, and sometimes behaviors. Instead of keeping them safe, anxiety makes their lives miserable. Generalized anxiety disorder might sound easy compared to other mental illnesses or even other types of anxiety. For years, I wanted a different anxiety disorder because this one was just so stupid. I should be able to recover from something so simple, right? However, constantly living in the state of fear and being hyper-vigilant drains you quickly.
Yet many friends and family members do not understand this disorder. Some assume that it is a quick fix while others criticize listening to the thoughts. Instead of helping their loved ones, support people can push them away by saying unkind and insensitive remarks instead of listening.
So, here is a list of ten comments I have heard personally or that a friend was told concerning anxiety. The people who responded this way usually meant well. That does not excuse their words, but I do want you to know that these family members and friends were not bad or cruel. They simply were ignorant about generalized anxiety disorder. Hopefully this list will be helpful to all who know someone with this illness.
- Just stop thinking those thoughts. Believe me, I wish that I could. It is important for me to learn to put helpful words, images, and ideas into my brain. However, most people with anxiety cannot stop the raging thoughts easily. Controlling the racing fears and terrifying images takes lots of work and numerous coping skills.
- Stop worrying so much. Once again, you have no idea how much I want to stop doing this. Most of the time, I do not want to worry about something. Triggers bring out fears that torment me. Calming myself is a process that I am still learning how to do.
- You freak out about the stupidest things. My anxieties may seem foolish to you, but they haunt me relentlessly. When you criticize them, it seems like you are calling me a wimp who cannot handle anything or a brat who rants over little things. Try to listen without judging my anxiety.
- Please, what is the worst that could happen? Um, I don’t think you really want the answer to that. Usually the worst possible scenario ends with gruesome deaths, abuse, destruction, hatred, rejection. . . The list goes on and on. Even the littlest thing (a scuffed shoe) can lead to the end of the world in my thoughts.
- Just be logical. That would never happen. Anxiety is not logical. Trying to reason with me usually will only end up with both of us upset. After listening, you might be able to calmly review the facts and help ground me in reality. However, judging me and criticizing my worries will only raise my stress levels and make isolate yourself from me.
- I am not willing to talk to you until you are in a rational state of mind. This always crushed me. I understand the reasoning behind it. However, someone who is struggling needs other people around to be safe. If you are terrified and trembling, do you want people to leave you alone? Just holding your loved one or sitting beside them shows that you care enough to help them through this difficult moment.
- Why are you such a drama queen/overly dramatic? Anxiety is not about trying to create drama or bring attention to oneself. In fact, many people with it want to be unnoticed so that they feel safer. If you feel like the bridge under you will break or a man is about to kidnap you, would you remain calm? The dramatic response is normal considering the thoughts swirling around inside my head.
- Why do you have to take medication when you could just change your way of thinking? Most people hate taking medication and feel guilty about it, so this is a really low blow. Anxiety is a mental illness which means something is different in the way that you think and the chemicals in your brain. Medication can even out those chemicals and give your body what it needs to calm down and function.
- Now that you are taking medication and/or going to counseling, you shouldn’t worry anymore. Medication should help, but it will not fix everything. Recovery takes time and lots of hard work. Please do not pressure someone into being healed right away after starting treatment.
- Just pray and everything will be better. Anxiety is a sign of not trusting in God. This is a common one in Christian circles. Please know that anxiety is an illness. One cannot simply pray it away or change it alone. Miracles do happen, I believe, but most people are not cured in one day. Would you tell this same thing to someone with cancer or diabetes?
What are some comments that you have heard that you would add to this list? Please let me know.