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8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety

Table of Contents

Summary

We all experience anxiety from time to time, but not all of us know what an anxiety disorder or panic attack is like. Instead of invalidating feelings or making a person weak for feeling stressed or panicked, let them know you are there to support them without judgment and ask how they want you to help.

There’s a good chance you will or have already encountered somebody with an anxiety disorder or somebody having a panic attack. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder and over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder.

It is natural to want to help in these situations but you could actually make them worse, even with the best of intentions.

Here are 8 phrases to avoid and what you can say or do instead.

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – Calm Down

“Calm Down”

Telling somebody has calmed down has never actually made the person calm down. In fact, it is more likely that they will be less calm. This is especially true when somebody is struggling with anxiety. Furthermore, if the person had the ability to calm down, don’t you think they would have already done it? This phrase is often annoying and patronizing and should be avoided.

Try this instead:

If somebody is feeling anxious or having a panic attack, you should remain as calm as possible. If you are calm, it will be easier for the other person to get there. Slow your breathing and don’t freak out. Also, instead of saying “calm down” try phrases like, “I’m always here for you.” Then, if they want to talk, listen without judgment.

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – it's not a big deal

“It’s Not A Big Deal”

Telling somebody with anxiety that their worries are not a big deal minimizes their feelings. What’s worse is that most people with anxiety know that their thoughts are irrational and out of proportion. However, their feelings are still valid and invalidating them only makes the situation worse.

Try this instead:

Instead of invalidating their feelings, validate them. Try saying something like, “I can see that you are really worried.”

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – I know how you feel

“I Know How You Feel”

Unless you have an anxiety disorder, you don’t know how they feel. Although we all have anxious moments, these are not the same as having an anxiety disorder. Sharing your experiences with anxious moments is not helpful and can feel like you are trying to make it a competition. Even if you also struggle with an anxiety disorder, everybody’s situation is difficult and it is best to ask before sharing experiences.

Try this instead:

You don’t have to understand what your friend is going through to be there for them. Show you care by being with them and listening without judgment to what they have to say and what their experiences are like. Being there for someone is more powerful than anything you can say. If you do feel the need to say something, “I’m here for you” is much more supportive!

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – “Stop Sweating The Small Stuff”

“Stop Sweating The Small Stuff”

To a person with an anxiety disorder, there is no “small stuff.” Also this makes it seem like the thing upsetting them isn’t a big deal, and feels like you are saying they are overreacting. Whatever is stressing them out is clearly important to them.

Try this instead:

Let the person know that you understand that they are feeling anxious, and that you are there for them.

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – “A Lot of People Have it Worse”

“A Lot of People Have it Worse”

Perspective is important but disregarding one person’s struggle because there are bigger issues in the world is not helpful. Just because somebody has it worse, does not mean their problems do not count. This phase also will not cause the person to suddenly realize how lucky they are, nor put them at ease knowing that somebody has it worse.

Try this instead:

Much like the other’s, try to validate their feelings and let them know you are there for them.

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – “Have You Tried ________”

“Have You Tried ________”

You may have heard about certain wellness trend that can help manage anxiety symptoms. Meditation, yoga, working out, mindfulness, journaling, exercising, and more are all great. However, everyone with anxiety has different relaxation techniques that work for them. Try not to offer unsolicited advice as the person probably knows more about what is best for them.

Try this instead:

Ask what you can do to help them. Chances are that they already know what does and does not help them feel better. Show them that you are willing to help in whatever way that they think will be best.

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – “Just Breathe”

“Just Breathe”

Yes, the way you breathe is very powerful and can influence how your entire body reacts to a situation. However, it is difficult for a person in the middle of a panic attack to shift their breathing pattern. Also, telling them to “just breathe” is really vague, and trying to think of how to breathe can make things worse.

Try this instead:

Instead of just telling them to breathe, model it. Slow your own breathe down and breathe in deeply through your now and out gently through your lips. It is much easier to match somebody else’s breathing than to think of a breathing technique and start doing it yourself!

8 Things Never To Say To Someone With Anxiety – man up

“Man Up”

This phrase is specific to the stigma that men can’t or shouldn’t have anxiety or mental health struggles. Men feel anxiety and telling somebody to “man up”in response to anxiety or panic attack symptoms is very invalidating.

Try this instead:

Once again, validate and be there for them. Never suggest that they shouldn’t have feeling because of their gender.

Basically…

We all experience anxiety from time to time, but not all of us know what an anxiety disorder or panic attack is like. Instead of invalidating feelings or making a person weak for feeling stressed or panicked, let them know you are there to support them without judgment and ask how they want you to help.

Sources

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