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Feb 18, 2014 - 14 comments





Panic attacks




anxiety support


loved ones


understanding anxiety


social anxiety


Generalized anxiety

This is a GREAT article one of my FB friends posted today, and I wanted to share it with all of you.  Boy, truer words have never been spoken!  This article nails it!  This would be a GREAT resource for family members/loved ones of an anxiety sufferer. Keep it, print it out, and give a copy to your loved ones to read......(link to article at the end)

7 Things You Shouldn't Say To Someone With Anxiety
The Huffington Post  | by  Lindsay Holmes

If you’ve ever suffered from severe anxiety, you’re probably overly familiar with the control it can have over your life. And you’re not alone -- it affects approximately 40 million adult Americans per year.

Anxiety and panic disorders can cause ceaseless feelings of fear and uncertainty -- and with that suffering often comes comments that are more hurtful than helpful. According to Scott Bea, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, while it usually comes from a heartfelt place, a lack of understanding from others can make working through a panic attack incredibly challenging.

“So many of the things you might say end up having a paradoxical effect and make the anxiety worse,” Bea tells The Huffington Post. “Anxiety can be like quicksand -- the more you do to try to diffuse the situation immediately, the deeper you sink. By telling people things like ‘stay calm,’ they can actually increase their sense of panic.”

Despite everything, there are ways to still be supportive without causing more distress. Here are seven comments you should avoid saying to someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder -- and how you can really help them instead.

1. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
The truth is, what you consider small may not be so minute in someone else’s world. While you may be trying to cast a positive, upbeat light on a tense situation, you may be diminishing something that’s a much bigger deal to another person.

“You have to enter the person’s belief system,” Bea advises. “For [someone with anxiety], everything is big stuff.” In order to help instead, try approaching them from a point of encouragement rather than implying that they “buck up” over something little. Reminding them that they overcame this panic before can help validate that their pain is real and help them push beyond those overwhelming feelings, Bea says.

2. “Calm down.”
The debilitating problem with anxiety and panic disorders is that you simply can’t calm down. Finding the ability to relax -- particularly on command -- isn’t easy for most people, and it certainly can be more difficult for someone suffering from anxiety.

In a blog post on Psychology Today, psychologist Sean Smith wrote an open letter to a loved one from the viewpoint of someone with anxiety, stating that even though there may be good intentions behind it, telling someone to calm down will most likely have the opposite effect:

    Let’s acknowledge the obvious: if I could stop my anxiety, I would have done so by now. That may be difficult to understand since it probably looks like I choose to [panic, scrub, hoard, pace, hide, ruminate, check, clean, etc]. I don’t. In my world, doing those things is only slightly less excruciating than not doing them. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but anxiety places a person in that position.

According to Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, your words don’t have to be your most powerful method -- offering to do something with them may be the best way to help alleviate their symptoms. Humphreys says activities like meditation, going for a walk or working out are all positive ways to help.

3. “Just do it.”
When someone with anxiety is facing their fear, a little “tough love” may not have the effect you’re hoping for. Depending on the type of phobia or disorder someone is dealing with, panic can strike at anytime -- whether it’s having to board an airplane, speaking with a group of people or even just out of nowhere. “Obviously if they could overcome this they would because it would be more pleasant,” Humphreys says. “No one chooses to have anxiety. Using [these phrases] makes them feel defensive and unsupported.”

Instead of telling someone to “suck it up,” practicing empathy is key. Humphreys advises swapping pep-talk language for phrases like “that’s a terrible way to feel” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“The paradox is, [an empathetic phrase] helps them calm down because they don’t feel like they have to fight for their anxiety,” Humphreys said. “It shows some understanding.”

4. “Everything is going to be fine.”
While overall supportive, Bea says that those with anxiety won’t really react to the comforting words in the way that you may hope. “Unfortunately, telling someone [who is dealing with anxiety] that ‘everything is going to be alright’ won’t do much, because nobody is going to believe it,” he explains. “Reassurance sometimes can be a bad method. It makes them feel better for 20 seconds and then doubt can creep in again.”

Bea suggests remaining encouraging, without using blanket statements that may not offer value to the situation. Sometimes, he says, even allowing them to embrace their worry -- instead of trying to banish it -- can be the only way to help. “They can always accept the condition,” Bea said. “Encouraging them that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling -- that can be a pretty good fix as well.”

5. “I’m stressed out too.”
Similar to “calm down” and “don’t sweat the small stuff,” you may be accidentally trivializing someone’s struggle by creating a comparison. However, if you are stressed or suffering from a mild anxiety or panic disorder, Humphreys warns that camaraderie after a certain point can get dangerous. “It’s important not to obsess with each other,” Humphreys advises. “If you have two people who are anxious, they may feed off each other. If people have trouble controlling their own anxiety, try not to engage in that activity even if you think it might help.”

Research has shown that stress is a contagious emotion, and a recent study out of the University of California San Francisco found that even babies can catch those negative feelings from their mothers. In order to promote healthier thoughts, Humphreys advises attempting to refocus the narrative instead of commiserating together.

6. “Have a drink -- it’ll take your mind off of it.”
That cocktail may take the edge off, but when dealing with anxiety disorders there is a greater problem to worry about, Humphreys says. Doctors and prescribed treatments are more of the answer when it comes to dealing with the troubles that cause the panic. “Most people assume that if someone has a few drinks, that will take their anxiety away,” he said. “In the short term, yes perhaps it will, but in the long term it can be a gateway for addiction. It’s dangerous in the long term because those substances can be reinforcing the anxiety.”

7. “Did I do something wrong?”
It can be difficult when a loved one is constantly suffering and at times it can even feel like your actions are somehow setting them off. Humphreys says it’s important to remember that panic and anxiety disorders stem from something larger than just one particular or minor instance. “Accept that you cannot control another person’s emotions,” he explains. “If you try to [control their emotions], you will feel frustrated, your loved one suffering may feel rejected and you’ll resent each other. It’s important not to take their anxiety personally.”

Humphreys says it’s also crucial to let your loved ones know that there is a way to overcoming any anxiety or panic disorder -- and that you’re there to be supportive. “There are ways out to become happier and more functional,” he says. “There is absolutely a reason to have hope.”

Post a Comment
Avatar universal
by Ellen038, Feb 18, 2014
Thank you for sharing this. I have been told 1/2 of these things in the past and I know it does make me feel worse. Sometimes I feel that I need to sleep off some of the anxiety.  It's one of my coping mechanisms. I think it's hard for someone who doesn't know how it feels to have it to understand that it's almost a crippling mental effect and it takes as long as it takes to get thru one of those attacks and sometimes things that are meant to comfort only intensify the attack.

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by ariley13, Feb 18, 2014
Nursegirl, I love you for posting this! As someone who suffers from anxiety I get so tired of people saying this stuff to me! It's all in your head (really?! ya think?!), just calm down, you worry too much. Ughh!!  It's impossible to understand unless you have experienced it. This sheds some light on the issue for all of the people who don't suffer from anxiety.

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by nursegirl6572, Feb 18, 2014
I agree girls!!!  :0)

Avatar universal
by digger1976, Feb 18, 2014
Brilliant post Nursegirl, makes so much sense. I luckily don't suffer with to much anxiety these days, but sure know how hopeless/scared you feel when it strikes, not nice!

Thank you for taking the time to put this up, ;)

Avatar universal
by weaver71, Feb 18, 2014
Seriously good points. I think we always want to fix things. Just accepting it's hard and remembering we have survived before is about all I can do sometimes. Thought provoking, thanks for this.

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by mele48, Feb 23, 2014
I wish I could print this and hand it out to some people!  Great article, thank you, Nursegirl!

Avatar universal
by cin333, Mar 19, 2014
excellent article!

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by calamfred, Mar 20, 2014
Thanks for sharing this! I've had a few family members that I kind of wish would experience just a wee bit of anxiety, to see what it's like...I know that sounds terrible, but it's bad enough dealing with anxiety...worse to have someone come along and be condescending. I'd much rather just be left alone. Thankfully, I've found positive ways to manage my anxiety...not cure, but manage.

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by nursegirl6572, Mar 20, 2014
calamfred,,,I totally hear ya!  It's hard for our loved ones to have empathy for what we go through when they haven't experienced it!  

Avatar universal
by Vance2335, Mar 20, 2014
I have heard a lot of these time and time again from many different people. Can't blame them for not understanding.

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by nursegirl6572, Mar 20, 2014
No, you can't blame them for not understanding, but you CAN blame them for not trying to learn a little bit about it to TRY to at least understand that what we go through is very real, and very hard.  I have told my loved ones that most importantly, I just need the acknowledgement from them that it's real and that's it's not easy.  Even if they don't truly "get it".

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by sprich3, Mar 21, 2014
Great share!!! My Mum has been acutely ill in hospital (possible colon cancer) for a few days (though she's tentatively okay now), and I had a family friend give me a lecture about using public transit versus a $15 cab to get there this morning.  Welllllllllll, I had had severe anxiety all night, hadn't slept, my ride had fallen through, and I was trying to get there before doctor's AM rounds.  
I had arrived at hospital, my Mum was in tests, I had almost no money, was alone, AND I have a major anxiety disorder and chronic pain and chronic health issues,
This was SO not the time to bother even mentioning it.  "Tough love" is not the best remedy when you don't fully understand the situation.  I have learnt, over time, to take this sage (ahem) advice with a grain of salt, but we actually shouldn't have to.

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by nursegirl6572, Mar 22, 2014
Awww, I'm so sorry!  People just do NOT realize sometimes how much they harm us versus help us!  You're already going through such a stressful enough time, and there's a lot of pressure on you, like you said, it absolutely was NOT the time for a lecture, or for her to try to decide how you should best go about your daily life.

While I don't usually take my own advice (lol)...I would be thrilled for you if the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, speak up for yourself, say something like, "I know you're trying to be helpful, and I appreciate that, but I would like to tell you that it's very hard for you to understand my situation, and comments like those actually make me feel worse."  I think we need to be more vocal in those kinds of situations when we can.

I absolutely LOVE mele's idea above of printing this article out and keep a few copies on hand, that way if situations like the above (with you) arises, you can give them the article and ask them to PLEASE read it, as it really hits home for you, and while you don't expect people to understand when they've never experienced it, you would like them to have awareness that many of the comments/advice offered is actually counterproductive and makes us feel worse.

I really would recommend people stand up more for themselves.  Best wishes to your mom!!  

Avatar universal
by Canadiangirl50, May 17, 2014
So very helpful! Thank you. I have suffered all my life but now at age 50 can seem to get any help for it. Your right the smallest things can bring on my anxiety and I cry all the way through and can't stop crying.(some depression too) I'm so terrified and my thoughts are out of control. It's so hard for my family. But certainly they don't get it. My husband was ignoring it all together last night and said lets just go to sleep. That hurt and I felt very resentful even angry at him. I'm trying to get medical help but I have fibromyalgia they say and a doc to treat this in Northern Ontario seems impossible.
I feel so alone. Thanks for sharing everyone

Brightest Blessings!

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