Stupid things people say to anxiety sufferers
Let’s discuss something that anyone who has dealt with chronic anxiety of any sort has experienced — ignorant people. We can call them anxiety idiots. The type of people who say stupid things thinking they’re helping, but usually end up making the situation worse. They could be anyone: friends, family, coworkers — even doctors.
The anxiety I’ve struggled with has been mostly focused on obsessive, improbable (yet real as ever to me) health concerns. An impending fear of major ailment, illness and death at any time.
I’ve improved a lot over the past few months. However, even a light jog, a long walk or a game of football — things I’d have never thought twice about before — typically lead me spiralling into worry and physical discomfort of some sort (dizziness, heart palpitations, fear of fainting, headaches, tinnitus, muscle spasms, etc.). Even something as innocuous as going up in an elevator often leaves me (embarrassingly) off-balance for several minutes, and googling brain cancer symptoms for several hours.
The following is a collection of actual quotes and advice from mostly well-meaning people trying to help me deal with my health anxiety. (Note: My responses are internal, unless in quotations, because really, you shouldn’t ever call anyone a dumb cunt aloud.)
Anxiety Idiot (AI): “You look and act totally fine!”
Me: I make a great effort to maintain that illusion and it’s tearing me apart physically and emotionally and I have no energy left to do or feel anything else.
AI: “Just cheer up, life is good!”
Me: Just fuck off.
AI: “Keep a journal.”
Me: How depressing — a running list of all the shite I’m feeling.
AI: “Everything is normal, perhaps you’re just hungover.” (Paramedics to me on two occasions after major panic attacks.)
Me: (Incredulously) I’ve been hungover before. I’m well acquainted with that feeling. Dumb cunt.
AI: “Just go for a run/jog/walk/(insert physical activity here), it will clear your head.”
Me: But what if I collapse and suffer a (insert unlikely medical catastrophe here) and perish?
AI: “You should pick up a sport.”
Me: There’s a reason I dropped them all.
AI: “Get some fresh air.”
Me: (Sarcastically) Ah, so that’s been what I’ve been lacking all this time. Oxygen.
AI: “Just breathe.”
Me: (Unsarcastically) Have I not been breathing normally? Do I have a respiratory illness? (Begins hyperventilating)
AI: “Come out for a drink, it’ll do you good.”
Me: Yes, it will!…until the next morning when the hangover sends me spiralling back into fear and depression.
AI: “That (insert symptom) isn’t normal, but I’m sure you’re fine.”
Me: Oh, brilliant! (Opens google)
Don’t be ignorant like the people above. If you’re not a therapist, it’s not your job to give advice. It’s your job to listen and be supportive. Ask them what they want and need. And remember that even if you’ve been through your own strife, everyone deals with anxiety differently.
Some of the aforementioned advice may actually work for some people, but cause additional panic in others. Until you get to know the person and their needs better, just be present and have their back.