Things you should never say to a friend with anxiety

April 27, 2017
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If you haven’t had an experience with anxiety, it is very likely you know somebody who has, whether you know it or not. Research shows that up to one in four young Australians are currently experiencing a mental health issue and around 14 per cent of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder each year. While it can be difficult to understand the condition, your reactions and comments have a big impact on that person’s wellbeing.

Most of you probably don’t realise that the things you say might cause harm, which is why we need to spread the word on things you should never say to a friend with anxiety.

“Calm down.”

Telling someone to “calm down” or “chill” when they’re upset can be a pretty inconsiderate reaction to somebody with anxiety. It’s insensitive and not helping anything at all – if the person experiencing an anxiety attack could calm down, they sure as heck would already be doing it. It might feel uncomfortable, but in that moment your focus should be on that person’s wellbeing, not your personal discomfort.

“Get over it.”

This saying is equally as useless and rude as “calm down”. Your friends need your support, not your dismissal. If your friend has an anxiety disorder, make sure you’re there for them by helping them feel safe and comfortable talking to you. Be there to talk to them about their fears, rather than belittling their problems.

“Cheer up!”

“Wow, thanks Susan, I never thought of that! I’m all better now!” can you imagine a person with anxiety saying this? No? That’s because it’s a dumb thing to say and telling someone to cheer up will not magically lift their mood.

It’s not a choice to have an anxiety attack, and if you’re feeling slightly ill-at-ease around someone who is experiencing anxiety, just imagine how that person must feel. If you don’t know what to say, then best to say nothing at all. Just let them know you’re there for them and they’re not alone.

“You're overreacting.”

Telling an anxious person that what they’re dealing with really isn’t a big deal and that they’re being ridiculous really doesn’t help. Most of the time, people with anxiety are perfectly aware that their minds are running away with them. But unfortunately, this is something they cannot control. You know their feeling might not seem very logical, but telling them that won’t make them feel any less anxious.

“But why do you feel anxious?”

This question happens more than you think. It’s almost like the natural response for people trying understand why people experiencing anxiety are reacting the way they are. This is a difficult question to answer because a person with anxiety may not know why and may not be able to explain it.

They might also fear that you won’t understand. And the truth is, if you don’t have anxiety then you probably won’t be able to fully understand. And that’s OK. You don’t have to understand why, you just need to understand how to help them, and make them feel safe and that they can talk to you.

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If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Sophie Nicolas

Sophie Nicolas is studying a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and is an aspiring writer, dog enthusiast and thrift shop fashion icon.

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