Know someone with anxiety? Avoid saying these things

You may have good intentions, but sometimes you can say the wrong things to someone with anxiety. Here are some things you should never say to someone with anxiety.
A woman feeling anxious due to kleptomania
What to say to someone with anxiety? Image courtesy: Adobe stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 22 Nov 2023, 05:31 pm IST
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Do you know someone anxious all the time? Do you have difficulty understanding what to say to a person with anxiety? For the unversed, anxiety is a natural and adaptive response to stress or a perceived threat. It alerts us of the potential dangers around us and helps us to respond appropriately. But in some cases, anxiety becomes excessive, prolonged, or disproportionate to the situation. Then it can interfere with daily life and well-being, and if you say the wrong things to someone with anxiety, it can make a situation worse. Read on to find out what not to say to someone with anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety serves as a protective mechanism, and is characterised by feelings of uneasiness, worry, or fear, says Dr Parth Nagda, a psychiatrist. It is a persistent, overwhelming sense of worry, fear, or unease that can manifest both mentally and physically. A lot of things can trigger anxiety such as concern about future events, accompanied by restlessness, tension, and increased heart rate. It can have a negative impact on your life, requiring attention, and in some cases, professional interventions.

Anxious woman
You should know what to say to someone with anxiety. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Symptoms of anxiety may vary from one person to another, but some of the most common signs of anxiety include:

• Increased heart rate
• Muscle tension
• Restlessness
• Sweating
• Trembling
• Sleep disturbances
• Irritability
• Overthinking
• Restlessness
• Agitation
• Difficulty in focusing or concentration.

There are different types of anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and various other phobias.

How is anxiety different from usual jitters?

Jitters is a temporary and mild state of nervousness or unease. It is common to experience it before certain situations such as public speaking, starting a new job, or going on a first date, before an exam. Jitters are typically short-lived and may even be considered normal.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a broader and more persistent mental health condition, the expert tells Health Shots. Anxiety disorders involve more intense and prolonged feelings of worry, fear or apprehension that can significantly impact a person’s daily life. Anxiety disorders often go beyond temporary nervousness.

What not to say to someone with anxiety?

A person with anxiety can be sensitive to a lot of things, especially to what the people around them say. It can be tricky to determine what to say and to avoid saying in front of people with anxiety. If you’ve been confused about what to say in front of someone with anxiety, you can start by avoiding these things:

1. Just unwind

Reminding someone who is anxious to calm down trivialises the difficulties they are facing and might even make them feel unworthy.

2. It’s all in your head

For those who suffer from it, anxiety is a genuine and frequently debilitating condition, says Dr Nagda. So, you should avoid invalidating their thoughts and emotions by saying something like: “It’s all in your head!”

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3. Snap out of it

Anxiety is not a choice, and people cannot simply snap out of it. This statement implies a lack of understanding about the nature of anxiety.

4. What do you have to be anxious about?

Anxiety doesn’t always have a clear cause, and even if it does, minimising the person’s concerns can increase their distress.

5. You are being too sensitive

The person might feel ignored and condemned if their sentiments are considered to be excessively sensitive.

6. I know how you feel

While your intention might be to empathise, everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique. It’s better to express empathy without assuming you fully understand their situation.

7. Why don’t you just face your fears?

Facing fears is a common aspect of anxiety treatment, but it’s essential to approach this topic with empathy and understanding rather than implying it’s a simple solution.

Woman dealing with anxiety
Never tell someone with anxiety to calm down. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

8. Calm down

This phrase can be counterproductive, as it oversimplifies the person’s struggle and might make them feel more pressured.

9. You are overreacting

Anxiety can cause intense emotional responses, and labelling them as an overreaction might intensify feelings of guilt or inadequacy.

10. It’s all in God’s hands

Expressions of faith can be comforting for some, but implying that anxiety is solely a matter of faith oversimplifies a complex mental health issue and may not be helpful.

What should we say to someone with anxiety?

While communicating with a person’s suffering from anxiety, offer empathy, support and understanding, suggests the expert.

1. I’m here for you

Letting them know that you are available and willing to listen creates a supportive atmosphere.

2. Is there anything specific you’d like to talk about or share?

Give them the opportunity to open up at their own pace and about topics they are comfortable discussing.

3. I’m sorry you are going through this. How can I help?

Offering assistance to someone with anxiety, shows that you care and are willing to be a source of support.

4. What do you need right now?

Anxious people occasionally have a sense of what might be helpful at a certain time, so it is good to ask them.

5. I may not fully understand, but I want to learn more about how you are feeling.

Empathy can be demonstrated by expressing a desire to comprehend and find out more about their situation.

6. Take your time; there is no rush.

Recognise that everyone copes differently and at their own pace. Encourage them to move at a speed that feels comfortable for them.

Everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique, so being open and supportive can make a significant difference. Listening without judgment and being patient are crucial when it comes to supporting someone with anxiety.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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