What you should not say to someone with anxiety

Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life for virtually all of us. But for those living with anxiety disorders, this means much more than having heightened sensitivities or being a bit nervous from time to time. It can mean intense and persistent worry, and unexpected anxiety attacks, which are sudden feelings of intense fear and panic. There’s a difference between everyday worry and anxiety disorders. And unless you’re a mental health professional or have experienced mental illness, it can be difficult to recognize that difference.  

We’d like to offer some insights into what you should not say to someone with anxiety, especially if you’re unsure of where they are in their mental health journey. If you’re currently dealing with anxiety or know someone who is, Wellin5 can help. Our experienced team of counsellors have helped countless people overcome their battle against different types of anxiety. WellIn5 will match you with a counsellor that meets your unique needs, and who can help you move forward in a meaningful way. Find your counsellor match here

What should you not say to someone with anxiety? 

1.   You just need to calm down

This is perhaps one of the most common things that people will say to someone who’s struggling with their mental health, and it’s a prime example of what you should not say to someone with anxiety. Unlike people who are a bit nervous or simply having a bad day, someone with an anxiety disorder feels fearful or nervous frequently — and over time, they often become masters at hiding it. So while you may not be able to tell, these feelings can interfere with their daily lives at any given moment. Telling them to calm down not only denies their experience, but it can make the situation worse. While the person dealing with anxiety may want to calm down, sometimes that outcome isn’t available to them in the moment. It’s more helpful to simply be with the person in a supportive way, let them know you’re here, and allow them to ride the feelings as they come.  

2.   Suck it up and face your fears 

What should you not say to someone with anxiety? You should not tell them to simply stand up for themselves and face their fears. Not only are you belittling the very real mental health challenge that this person is facing, but you may also be pushing them to face a fear they’re not yet ready to go up against. Not only that, but people in this position could have already tried, or could be in the process of working through their fears. This statement can make them feel like they’re not making progress fast enough — which could cause feelings of shame and set them back mentally. Everyone deals with their challenges at their own pace, and it’s important to avoid pressuring others.  

3.   I know how you feel 

Another example of what you should not say to someone with anxiety is that you understand exactly how they feel. Yes, we all get anxious sometimes and we’ve all had moments where we’ve experienced fear or worry. But unless you have a lived experience with anxiety disorders, you may not know how that person is feeling. Think of it like this: would you tell someone you know how they feel when they’ve broken their arm if you’ve never broken a bone in your body? Even if our intention is to sympathize, it may across in the wrong way. 

Not only that, but everyone experiences anxiety differently — so while two people may have the same diagnosis, they could be experiencing it in completely different ways, with different symptoms and patterns of behaviour. What’s important is to let the person know you’re here for them. Give them the time space to share how they feel, when and if they’re comfortable doing so.

4.   Just have a drink and you’ll relax 

Our society has normalized and often joked about having a drink to deal with stress. For some, the occasional drink may help blow off some steam or give them the pause they need. However, this is yet another example of what you should not say to someone with anxiety. Using substances as a coping mechanism is not only short-lived, but it can lead to addiction and worsening symptoms. Not to mention, individuals living with anxiety may be taking medication that could react negatively with alcohol. Some may not be comfortable sharing this, and to avoid disclosure, would rather take the drink than have an uncomfortable conversation. That’s why it’s important to give them the space to make their own decisions. Offering someone with anxiety a drink isn’t inherently bad – but if they say ‘no’, respect their answer the first time.

5.   It’s all in your head 

People who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder can know full well that what they’re experiencing is ‘all in their head’ but it doesn’t necessarily make anxiety easier to deal with. And for some, it may not feel in their head at all. Anxiety can make the irrational feel rational. It can make everyday things feel terrifying. And it can manifest as a full-body experience. Simply knowing that something is mental in nature doesn’t make it any easier to overcome than any other medical condition. It’s like telling someone who has bronchitis, “it’s all in your lungs.” You’re not wrong, but stating that won’t make the anxiety go away. In fact, it can feel dismissive. Given how we’re still uncovering brain functions and their chemistry, we’re learning that anxiety can affect different people, well, differently. Everyone’s experience is unique. So avoid telling people with anxiety how their anxiety works, or how they should be feeling it.

6.   Why are you so negative all the time? 

What should you not say to someone with anxiety? Something that makes them feel guilty for a cluster of symptoms that can sometimes feel out of their control. Anxiety responses already feel negative to the person experiencing them. So saying this to someone with anxiety feels like being spoken down to – causing intense guilt, shame, and can destroy the trust that’s essential for vulnerability. When people with an anxiety disorder begin to associate guilt and shame with what they’re dealing with, they become much less likely to open up about what’s wrong and may avoid seeking help when they need it. Though anxiety can feel all-consuming, remind people that they are not their anxiety. They are worthy of patience and help.  

How Wellin5 can help 

There are many things you should avoid saying to someone with anxiety. But one of the best things you CAN do is show empathy without judgement. For more tips on how to be there for someone with anxiety, check out this blog post. If you or someone you know is ready to be supported through their anxiety, Wellin5 can help.

Wellin5 has a team of mental health professionals who understand what it’s like to deal with anxiety in a variety of unique situations. Help is just a few clicks away through our online portal — completely discrete and from the comfort of your own home.

Ready to get started, or still have more questions? Contact us, and let’s talk.