Everyone feels anxious at some point but feeling anxious occasionally is completely different to having an anxiety disorder. It’s not easy for someone with such condition to express how they feel and when they do, know that they’ve come for help and support not judgement and ignorance. It’s more important to listen to that person and show sympathy, doing otherwise will only make them feel worse. Appreciate it when they come up to you because most of the time they’re too afraid and choose to suffer on their own instead.
A person with an anxiety disorder usually has heightened emotions, they feel everything deeply and every word can have a significant impact on them. Thus, it’s very important to be aware of your comments and the advice you pass onto someone who is clinically diagnosed with anxiety. Keep in mind it took them a lot of courage and effort to speak up, you should always try to provide emotional support rather than saying words that could be hurtful as they interpret them differently.
• Don’t speak to them as if they’re unusual - it’s stereotypical and nerve wrecking to feel as though they’re being treated intensively. Instead you could use inclusive language to remind them that they’re not in this alone.
• Don’t brush things off - Telling them “It’s not a big deal, it happened to me before.” This is very unhelpful to them and intensifies their anxiety, instead you could guide them on how to overcome the situation or offer some help.
• Don’t blame them - Telling someone “You are making yourself feel bad, you’re the only one who can fix this” does not work. It makes them feel extremely terrible, nobody really wants to feel anxious all the time and you must remember it’s a mental disorder not something they have control over. Instead you could say “I’m always here for you,” it may improve how they feel about themselves.
• Don’t ask them “are you ok?”-Chances are they’re not, they could end up breaking down upon hearing this question. You could offer them to go for a walk or have some coffee, give them the space to open up if they look as if they’re feeling down. If you’re close enough then you should be able to identify if they’re not ok without asking, someone who looks anxious is clearly not ok!
• Don’t tell them “go get some treatment”- If you think telling someone with an anxiety disorder to do yoga/meditation, take medication or visit a therapist helps, it’s a big mistake! The reason they’ve come to you is that they’re avoiding these options, they’re aware that they could get professional treatment but perhaps they don’t feel comfortable speaking to a stranger. Perhaps they need emotional support from someone they love rather than bits of advice they’ve heard many times before.
• Don’t call them “crazy” or “overreacting” - This is basically the same as stabbing a knife in their back, it’s the worst thing you could tell someone dealing with severe anxiety, even if you’re only joking. They’re likely to believe it, all they really need is someone to understand their sufferings not to show disrespect towards their feelings. It’s completely wrong to think that someone who has a panic attack is crazy or overreacting, truth is they’re probably experiencing an anxiety attack and gasping for help.
• Don’t tell them “others have it worse” - Someone dealing with an anxiety disorder already knows that other people have bigger problems, but for them their struggle is too heavy to carry. It’s important to demonstrate some respect and not to belittle their feelings, saying these words puts more pressure on them and makes them feel very weak.