Everyone is a little bit ignorant about something.
The faster you can believe that about yourself, the easier it is to start educating yourself. Because the difference between someone who is an ignorant person and someone who is ignorant about something is the willingness to change and learn.
And so, if you want to become an ally to someone with anxiety, remember this list of things you shouldn’t say to someone living with anxiety. I’m sure these points could relate to other mental illnesses, or just people in general.
1] “Just Calm Down”
OKAY SURE GREAT WOW THANKS GENIUS IF ONLY I HAD HEARD THAT BEFORE MAYBE I WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN FEELING THIS MY WHOLE LIFE I’M CURED THANKS YOU SHOULD CHARGE $10000000 AN HOUR FOR THIS STUFF.
This. literally. makes. my. blood. boil.
The worst thing you could ever tell anyone who is anxious, whether because of an anxiety disorder or not, is to calm down. It just doesn’t work. Never mind how invalidating and discouraging it is; it just simply doesn’t work. So stop. Remove that phrase from your vocabulary.
2] “Everybody gets anxious.”
True beech, true. But there’s a difference between being anxious and having anxiety. There’s less control and rationale there. Those parts of your brain that help you rationalize are overshadowed by that part of your brain that fuels the anxiety.
I’m sure there’s a more scientific explanation you can look up that uses more jargon than that.
3] “You’ll get over it.”
Once again, true. But in the moment, the future is blurry and I need to feel what I’m feeling. Don’t trivialize what I’m going through right now.
While I believe the intention of motivating someone that they can get through it and over it is great, there’s no need to shrug it off like it’s something to get over. It takes some people a while.
4] “You’re being over-dramatic.”
Like… yeah a little bit. But also no.
I say a little bit because during an anxious moment, our thoughts can be so dramatized in our brains that the littlest thing feels like the end of the world. And it’s not. And we’ll realize that.
But our fears, in our minds, are real, until we get to the point where we realize they aren’t. I don’t know if you can follow that. Basically, to us, our fears are real and tangible in the moment we’re feeling them. Don’t minimize them.
5] “You’re wrong.”
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned lately is that you should never, ever tell anyone their feelings are wrong. Yes, I might be wrong, but if I FEEL something, it’s not wrong. Work with me to change how I feel, sure. But don’t just tell me I’m wrong.
For example, if I say “I feel like I’m a failure,” don’t say “Well, you’re wrong, so you shouldn’t feel that way.” You can say “You are not a failure. I’m sorry you feel that way though,” and then continue the conversation from a place of care instead of a place of dismissal.
I don’t want to be told I’m wrong, because that continues the spiral of self-doubt and self-hate that isn’t healthy for me. I’m sure many others can relate. Plus, feelings are personal, and are never wrong. Feelings are different from beliefs and opinions.
6] “Things could be worse.”
Sure, maybe, depending on your perspective of bad. Depending on your personal experience and how that’s led you to cope. Depending on what you’ve been exposed to in your life. Depending on your emotional maturity… I don’t need to continue, do I?
Jumping back on that invalidation train, letting someone know their situation could be worse or that someone else has it worse than them is neither helpful nor comforting. I don’t find happiness in other people’s pain (as an empath, which we’ll explore in a future post).
Furthermore, this could be the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with or he/she/they have had to deal with. It may feel huge in my head. You don’t know.
7] “You worry too much .You shouldn’t worry so much”
You don’t think I know that?!
For someone living with a mental illness, I’m pretty damn self-aware and know how stuff works. I KNOW I shouldn’t be worrying about [insert blank here]. I seriously KNOW I worry too much, and about things that seem trivial or small or irrational. I GET IT, FAM.
Here’s the thing. I can’t control it. With all the coping skills and therapy and self-reflection and meditation I could buy, I still have moments where I can’t control what I’m thinking and feeling and worrying about. I’m TRYING MY BEST!
So what are some things that can be helpful or encouraging or supportive?
“I’m very sorry you feel that way. What can I do?”
“I’m not sure what to say, but I’m here to listen.”
“I wish you didn’t feel that way.”
“What can I do to help you?”
“Let’s go for a walk/grab a coffee/watch a funny movie/ after we’re finished talking about it so you can try to distract yourself until you’re ready to deal with this.”
“I’m not sure what to do. Just know that I love you and I’ll do what I can for you. I know you can get through this when you’re ready to.”
And so on and so on. Don’t act like you have all the answers if you don’t, and be sure to let your person know they are loved and they have support. You’d be overwhelmed to know how simple affirmations like this can have a tremendous effect on a person living with a mental illness.
Have you ever had experiences where someone has said something to you due to your mental illness and it’s seriously bothered you? Share in the comments.