Everyone on earth experiences anxiety.
Without it, as a human race we would have been wiped out millions of years ago.There are varying degrees of anxiety: stress (oh my lord, the deadline is coming up, I need to get this one!); worry (I hope I studied enough, I hope I pass!); and disorder-level anxiety (I’m not going to the party, everyone just thinks I’m weird!).We need stress, and to an extent, worry to be able to move forward and achieve things. They are generally manageable, albeit uncomfortable. If you have never experienced disorder-level anxiety, it can be difficult to appreciate just how debilitating it can be.Below we discuss how not to approach someone with pathological anxiety.
“Don’t worry about it!” “Calm down!”. Ok great, because literally no one experiencing anxiety has ever considered either of these things before. Although these kinds of statements are usually intended to be helpful, to the recipient they just minimise the distress and invalidate their feelings. To cut a long story short, statements like these don’t help in the slightest and just make that person moreanxious about displaying anxiety symptoms in front of you. 1/10 do not recommend.
“Yeah ok, now let me tell you about a time where I experienced something worse”. This (and its variants) hits particularly hard when someone who is ordinarily a closed book musters the courage to open up. Completely invalidating? Yes. Reinforcing all those thoughts and feelings of “don’t bother because no one cares”? Completely. Helpful? No. 1/10 do not recommend.
“Well this wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t (insert action here)”. This one incorporates our good friends guilt and shame into the mix. Chances are that our anxious friends already know how they contribute to a certain set of events, because over-analysing is what we do best. All this does is magnify the self-loathing they are likely already experiencing. Again, do not recommend.
So what can we do to support someone with anxiety? The answer is really very simple.Validate them. Let them know that you hear them, that you get it, and that even if you can’t fix things for them, you can empathise with them. To be clear – this isnot the same as subjugating or making allowances and excuses for poor behaviour because someone has anxiety.At the end of the day, we all have decisions to make about how we manage emotions and if our emotions are problematic then it’s on us to do something with that. However, there is a way to be supportive whilst also maintaining accountability.
If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will answer any questions you may have.