Living with anxiety can be a challenging experience, and the support of friends and family can make a significant difference. However, even well-intentioned words can sometimes do more harm than good. Before diving into the common phrases that should be avoided when talking to someone with anxiety, it’s important to highlight a few positive ways to offer support. Being an active listener, showing empathy, and providing a non-judgmental space where they can express themselves freely are key. Additionally, offering to help find resources or professional support can be beneficial if they are open to it. Above all, the aim should be to create an environment of understanding and safety. With this in mind, let’s explore some of the phrases that are best avoided to maintain a supportive and empathetic approach toward individuals dealing with anxiety.
Avoid Saying “Stop Worrying About It”
Telling someone with anxiety to “stop worrying about it” is counterproductive. This phrase suggests that their anxiety is a choice, which it is not. Anxiety is a complex condition that can’t be turned on and off at will. Instead of making them feel blamed, offering support and understanding, recognizing that their feelings are valid and significant, is more helpful.
Don’t Label Them as “An Anxious Person”
Referring to someone as “an anxious person” can negatively impact their self-perception. This label reduces their entire identity to their anxiety and ignores other aspects of their character. It’s essential to see them as a whole person, not just through the lens of their anxiety. Acknowledge their struggles without defining them by those struggles.
Avoid Questioning Their Anxiety
Asking, “Why would you be anxious about that?” invalidates the person’s feelings. Anxiety doesn’t always stem from logical or understandable sources, and questioning its validity can be hurtful. It’s crucial to accept that their feelings are real to them, regardless of the reason, and to offer empathy rather than skepticism.
Never Suggest They “Don’t Think About It”
Suggesting someone with anxiety to “Just don’t think about it” is ineffective and can feel dismissive. Anxiety often involves intrusive thoughts that are not easily controlled. A more supportive approach is to acknowledge their challenges and offer to help them find ways to cope, such as discussing strategies or just being there to listen.
Avoid Saying “It’s All in Your Head”
The phrase “It’s all in your head” can be damaging as it implies that their anxiety is not real or significant. While anxiety does involve a person’s thoughts and perceptions, it has very real emotional and physical effects. Offering grounding techniques or simply a listening ear can be more helpful.
Don’t Compare With “I Get Anxious Too”
While saying “I get anxious too” might be intended to empathize, it can sometimes minimize the person’s experience. It’s like saying, “It happens to me too, so?” Or another way of telling them, “Deal with it!” All of which is far from comforting. Everyone’s experience is unique. Instead of comparing, show compassion and a readiness to support them in their individual experience.
Don’t Make It About Yourself With “Is This My Fault?”
Asking “Is this my fault?” during someone’s anxious moment shifts the focus to your feelings rather than helping them. It’s more constructive to stay focused on their needs. Offer assistance by asking how you can help and be ready to support them in the way they need.
Avoid Trivializing With “Anxiety Is Just a Trend”
Statements like “Anxiety is just a trend” are harmful as they trivialize a serious condition. Just because you think everyone claims to be anxious doesn’t mean they are not. Everyone gets the flu, but it doesn’t make it just a trend. Comments like this can lead to feelings of shame and isolation. Recognizing anxiety as a valid and often debilitating disorder shows empathy and understanding, which is what someone struggling with anxiety needs.
Refrain From Saying “Not This Again”
Expressing frustration with “Not this again” can make an anxious person feel burdened. It’s essential to approach their experiences with patience and understanding. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek support for yourself, but try to maintain a supportive and non-judgmental stance with them.
Don’t Tell Them to “Stop Worrying/Calm Down”
Advising someone to “stop worrying” or “calm down” is not helpful. They wouldn’t be anxious if it were that easy to stay calm. They are anxious because they can’t help it. Anxiety is not something that can be switched off at a person’s will. Encouraging them to seek treatment and offering to help them explore options for managing their anxiety is a more supportive approach.
Avoid Saying, “Other People Have It Worse.”
Comparing their struggle with others by saying, “Other people have it worse,” invalidates their experience. Have you also considered that they have it worse than others? It’s easy to forget that the person hearing this also faces challenges that are difficult for them. It’s important to understand that anxiety affects people differently, and what might seem like a minor issue to one person can be overwhelming for another. Showing empathy and acknowledging their feelings as valid is crucial.
Never Dismiss Their Feelings With “It’s Not Such a Big Deal”
Trivializing their feelings with phrases like “It’s not such a big deal” can exacerbate their anxiety. Recognize the severity of what they are going through, and offer your support and understanding. Learning about anxiety disorders can help you provide better support and show that you take their condition seriously.
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Amaka Chukwuma is a freelance content writer with a BA in linguistics. As a result of her insatiable curiosity, she writes in various B2C and B2B niches. Her favorite subject matter, however, is in the financial, health, and technological niches. She has contributed to publications like ButtonwoodTree and FinanceBuzz in the past and currently writes for WealthofGeeks. You can connect with her on Linkedin and Twitter.