How to Talk to Your Family and Friends About Your Anxiety
by Ken Goodman, LCSW
Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s virtually impossible to understand what it’s like to live with anxiety. Many people suffer in silence for fear that friends and relatives will not understand, will judge, or will ridicule them.
But like many things associated with anxiety, this is a false belief. If you have anxiety, chances are good that your friends and family want to understand what you’re going through and to help you.
Dealing with anxiety can be very challenging. By helping
your loved ones understand what you’re going through, you’re
enabling them to support you.
Below are nine facts about anxiety you can share with your loved ones to help them gain a better understanding of what it’s like to struggle with anxiety—and how they can help.
- Anxiety disorders aren’t like ordinary anxiety. It’s not like the anxiety you feel before meeting your boss or speaking in public. It’s much more complex and much less controllable. Imagine a time when you were anxious or afraid. Now multiply that by 100. That’s what I feel like when anxiety strikes.
- Anxiety is physical and all-consuming. Anxiety isn’t just in my head. It causes real physical symptoms, like a racing heart, headaches, jitters, chest pains, sweating, and difficulty breathing. This physical discomfort often makes it hard to think about anything else. It makes me worry about my health, which in turn escalates my anxiety.
- It’s not about you; it’s about me. Facing a near constant bombardment of negative thoughts is exhausting. I may want to sit and cry sometimes. I may be uninterested or too scared to do things. I may even take my frustration out on you. Please don’t take it personally. It’s nothing you’ve done, and it’s not your fault.
- I know my fears are irrational. But that doesn’t change the fact that I feel them. Part of me knows it’s irrational, but I can’t help feeling, thinking, and behaving the way I do. I often feel embarrassed, ashamed, and frustrated with myself for this because I know I am a smart person.
- I don’t mean to be rude; I’m just trying to cope. When I am under a lot of stress or feeling overwhelmed, my anxiety level increases. I may have to remove myself from the situation to be by myself, take a few deep breaths, and calm down. Sometimes I may get quiet or question what you are doing.
- Please don’t try to talk me out of my emotions. It doesn’t help when you say things like, “Your worries aren’t real,” or, “Just stop your negative thinking,” or, “Just get over it.” It belittles what I’m experiencing and makes me feel broken.
- I wish I could turn it off, but I can’t. I don’t want to focus on the negative all the time. I know how I sound sometimes and wish I could stop. But there’s something going on in my brain that makes it impossible for me to react calmly.
- I don’t like feeling this way. I would love to be able to enjoy life without feeling anxious. Being consumed with anxiety is not pleasant, and I don’t feel this way because I want to. I feel this way because sometimes my anxiety is hard to control. I realize washing my hands repeatedly, checking locks again and again, and other compulsive behaviors caused by my anxiety are irrational, but it’s not easy for me to stop.
- It’s okay if you don’t know what to do. I understand that when anxiety hits, you may not be sure how to be supportive. When that happens, just ask me how you can help. Frequently, a reassuring statement like, “I am here for you,” is enough to help calm me down. Sometimes all I need is a hug. Other times I just need to be left alone.
Dealing with anxiety can be very challenging. By helping your loved ones understand what you’re going through, you’re enabling them to support you.
Find out as much as you can about anxiety so you can explain it to your loved ones. And learn about ways to meet, honor, accept, and deal with it, too. Be proactive. Take responsibility for your healing. If you want to get better and you work at it, chances are excellent that you will improve.
With the support of your friends and family, along with cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, mindfulness-based stress reduction, self-help books, and programs like The Anxiety Solution Series, you can learn to control your anxiety and live a happy, fulfilling life.