Do you have a friend, family member, or significant other who has anxiety? If so, then you know it can be a challenge to understand how your loved one feels and why they act the way they do.
Anxiety is not rational – anyone who lives with the condition will tell you as much. So, to someone who does not experience a greater-than-usual degree of anxiety (we all have a little bit of anxiety from time-to-time), it can be hard to wrap your head around what your loved one is really goes through.
In fact, dealing with a chronically anxious friend or family member can feel downright frustrating at times. Why can’t your loved one just get over their fears? Why do they still feel anxious even when they know their feelings don’t make sense? Of course, you know that criticizing someone for their anxiety isn’t productive or kind. Sadly, this is the nature of anxiety.
But since you want your loved one to be happy and free of anxiety, you might be tempted to ask them questions like this to try to get a better idea of what they’re going through. You may even (gasp!) give some advice in an attempt to help them.
Most people with anxiety don’t appreciate being questioned about their symptoms and they usually do not like being given unsolicited advice, it is still important to them to feel understood.
Above all else, anxiety can be a lonely condition to deal with. Most people who live with this condition don’t like to say much about it for fear of being judged or criticized by others. Having a friend or family member who goes the extra mile to understand and be supportive can make all the difference in the world to someone with anxiety.
And while your real-life loved ones with anxiety might not always feel comfortable opening up about their anxiety, we hope that this article can at least cast some light on what it’s like to live as an anxious person.
Here are 8 things your loved ones with anxiety might not want to say, but still need you to know.
1. The struggle is very real.
First things first: anxiety does exist. It is a real and diagnosable condition, not just a figment of the sufferer’s imagination or an inability to deal with “the real world.” In fact, many people with anxiety fight harder battles every day than people without anxiety, just because chronic anxiety makes most of the daily tasks of life a little bit more difficult.
So when your loved one tells you that they’re struggling, believe them. Anxiety may not be visible to other people, but for those who live with it, it can shape the course of every day – or even their whole lifetime.
2. It’s mostly unpredictable.
Not every person with anxiety feels anxious all the time. In fact, most don’t. Anxiety ebbs and flows like a tide coming in and going out, but in a less predictable way. In practical terms, this means that your friend or family member with anxiety will have good days and bad days. Having a good day doesn’t mean that their anxiety is gone, or that it’s getting better, or anything like that. It simply means that your loved one is getting a reprieve for a while. Like with any other chronic condition, it’s important to enjoy the good days when they come and have faith that the bad days won’t last forever.
3. It feels completely overwhelming.
Thinking about anxiety from a detached, rational perspective is one thing. But experiencing an anxiety attack for yourself is a completely different matter. From a logical point of view, many think that anxiety shouldn’t be that big of a deal – it’s a negative emotional response, not a looming physical threat, and sometimes it’s not caused by much of anything real at all. But fighting off an anxiety attack when you’re in the middle of it sometimes does feel like a matter of survival. And while your loved one might know intellectually that they are in no danger, that doesn’t make much of a difference to their body’s stress response. Their heart rate is skyrocketing, their mind is racing, and they’re breaking out in a cold sweat. The best thing you can do when this happens is to get your loved one to a quiet place, stay with them, and give them time to recover.
4. Just having someone there makes a big difference. Be there for me.
It can be hard to know whether your loved one with anxiety wants you around when they’re having an attack. In most cases, the answer is a resounding yes. Your friend or family member might not want to ask you to stick around when anxiety strikes – maybe they’re embarrassed about it, or maybe they’re afraid that you’ll be uncomfortable. Staying by your loved one’s side when they’re having a bad time will go a long way towards helping them feel truly supported and cared for.
For most people, facing anxiety alone makes it much worse.
5. It’s not that easy to just snap out of it.
Anxiety doesn’t just exist in the mind. It also produces a physiological response – the aforementioned racing heartbeat, cold sweat, trembling, and all the rest. When the body is in panic mode, there’s not always a way to just snap out of it. If it were that easy, there would be no reason for this article. Anxiety attacks never last forever, but it’s close to impossible to just snap out of one, too.
6. Even when things are ok, I’m worried for the next attack.
Anxiety can be managed, and there are some very effective treatment strategies available, but the sufferer never really knows when the next attack will happen. This means that your friend or family member with anxiety is probably always “looking over their shoulder,” worrying about when the next attack will strike. Ironically, in some cases, worrying about a panic attack can actually bring one on.
Be patient with your loved one if you feel as if they’re overly worried about their anxiety, and remember that it’s harder for them than you may realize.
7. Yes, it is usually irrational, but it feels very real.
Contrary to popular belief, most people with anxiety are well aware that their fears are not the most logical. But what people without anxiety don’t usually understand is that, in terms of the severity of the anxiety, it doesn’t matter. Since anxiety is not rooted in a logical way of thinking, it’s nearly impossible to stop or prevent an anxiety attack through logical thinking. And your friend or family member’s feelings are every bit as strong as if they were in real danger.
8. I usually lie when you ask me if I’m ok.
People with anxiety don’t usually want to burden others with their feelings and fears. Most people who live with this condition have gotten used to automatically telling others, “I’m fine,” even if they’re not. Many have even learned how to function fairly well day-to-day without people realizing they have intentse anxiety underneath their outward appearance. One of the best ways you can help your loved one with anxiety is to ask them how they’re really doing, and listen – really listen – when they tell you.
Anxiety isn’t an easy condition to live with. It’s also not an easy condition to understand if you’re on the outside looking in. Keep these eight truths in mind next time you’re around your friend or family member with anxiety, and don’t be afraid to reach out and let your loved one know that you’re there for them. It probably matters more to them than you know.