People mean well and want to help, but when someone is experiencing anxiety or feeling nervous, the last thing we need is more useless cliches that don't help us one bit. It's hard to understand anxiety unless you have experienced it. Most people have felt anxious in their lifetimes, but if you've ever experienced the glory of a panic attack or been so anxious you felt sick, you know why I see red when people say, "Just relax."
Newsflash, Einstein: if we could just relax, we would.
This of course doesn't mean you shouldn't try to manage your anxiety. When I am feeling anxious, exercise, deep breathing, stretching, and time with friends help me feel better. Sometimes it also means shutting down my cell phone and not bothering with anyone, minus my daughter.
But when someone tries to give you unhelpful advice about anxiety for the 50th time, it's enough to make you want to check out of dodge for the weekend.
1. "Just Relax"
Look, do you have a magic wand to erase this feeling of dread? If you did, you would use it and if I did, so would I. Telling me to "just relax" is not helpful.
2. "Why Are You So Worried?"
Hey, if I had any idea why I'm so worried about potentially nothing, I would write a thesis on it and become a psychologist. And sometimes . . .
There are things worth worrying about! Recently undergoing family law issues with my ex had me worried. That's a normal thing anyone would worry about. Sometimes, it's OK to worry. Everyone does. It's when the worrying consumes you that you have a problem. After all, some folks say smart people worry. Maybe we're just really intelligent to care so much.
3. "You Need to Stop Stressing"
Sometimes in life we get stressed. If we could allow ourselves to have no stress, life would be boring and most likely, this would be a TV show. Everyone experiences stress. It's how you handle the stress and the proportionate worry that comes with it that makes you stronger. Yoga, breathing, exercise, reading, walking, seeing friends, turning off the lights and just listening to music, or playing with kids can help you cheer up or decompress. Another destress favourite? Colouring books!
4. "Stop Being Ridiculous"
I had a friend who had some interesting phobias. Telling him, however, to stop being ridiculous about his phobias didn't help him become less phobic. It simply made him feel embarrassed, so he started to withdraw.
If you're feeling like anxiety is taking up such great space in your head that you need to socially retreat, talk to someone.
5. "You're Wasting Time Worrying"
Really? See, I thought I was working hard on a Pulitzer Prize here for "health worries" that consume me in 2016. Everyone who worries knows it's a time waster. Instead of telling someone to stop running away minutes of his or her life, offer strategies to help the person through.
For me, I was sick and realised something was wrong but knew that as long as I took care of myself and did what the doctor said, it would be OK. I worried about what the problem was, sure, but I had to tell myself that I had no control over the situation other than what I was already doing.
It turns out I had a treatable issue and while it's a pain and being sick decreased my life satisfaction, I did what the doctor said and started to feel better.
6. "There's No Reason to Worry"
Most of the time, there really is no reason to worry. Your friend you thought was mad? Still loves you. That mole on your shoulder? Not cancerous. The report due on Monday? It will get done.
But sometimes, you can't help but worry or truly, there are some serious cards at hand to fret about. When people tell you there's no reason to worry, it doesn't stop your fears and most often, it invalidates the person's feelings. You may not feel there is a reason to worry but that person does. Perhaps with love and logic, you can help talk your loved one through the anxious feelings, rather than poo-pooing them and saying, "There's no reason to worry."
7. "Get Over It"
As a very rude man once said to me, "Get over it."
It doesn't happen overnight. Managing worry and fear takes effort and the desire to take back your life from the prison of anxiety. Telling someone to stop "living in the metaphorical cell of anxiety" doesn't allow the person to unlock the bars and chains. Offering someone ideas to help them manage and move beyond anxiety, does.
- Cognitive-behavioural thought changes
- Good diet
- Support system
- The belief you can change
Those things help anxiety. Hackneyed comments do not.