When Anxiety Attacks, Part Two (AKA What Not To Say)

So yesterday I came clean about my anxiety issues. Which, ironically, caused all sorts of anxiety for a few hours as it published and I fretted over what all my friends and family would think/say/do.

Today I just want to talk about what not to say to someone who has anxiety. Yes, all of these have been said to me, so I know exactly how little they helped in my personal situation.

It’s not worth getting all worked up over.
I know. Trust me. The logical part of my brain is screaming this very sentence at me as soon as an actual attack starts to happen. Every logical part of my body knows that most of what I’m worried about/anxious about will never come to pass.

If only anxiety were logical.

You’re freaking out over nothing.
To you, yes. It’s nothing. To me, it’s my worst fears coming true. It might just be a bug to you; to me, it’s a carrier of deadly diseases out to kill me and my dog. It doesn’t help when you tell me it’s nothing. It just makes me feel small and judged.

Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen?
We don’t want to answer that question. The worst that can happen is the thing that controls our anxiety and our every waking thought in the middle of an attack.

You’re on medication?!?!
Yes. Sometimes I am on medication. If you’re sick, you take meds, right? Anxiety is a type of sickness. There was a time when I couldn’t control the anxiety anymore and I went on medication. It doesn’t make me a bad person.

Can’t you take something for that?
Whether or not to be medicated for anxiety is a personal choice. It’s also a HARD choice. There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. Please don’t make us feel bad about our choice to not medicate either.

Your faith isn’t strong enough/you don’t trust God enough/you’re not praying enough.
This one is worth a whole blog on it’s own. But, as a Christian, you would not believe the number of times someone has equated my anxiety with my faith. Just because I have anxiety doesn’t mean I don’t trust God. It doesn’t mean I don’t try hard to follow Him. It doesn’t mean I don’t spend hours in prayer. Anxiety isn’t about faith. Faith, quite frankly, is the only thing that gets me through anxious thoughts sometimes.

Just breathe. Calm down.
Breathing is second nature to most people. And yes, deep breathing has helped my anxiety immensely because it gives me something to focus on other than whatever is causing the attack. But, there is not amount of breathing that can make everything “better.” Don’t tell me to calm down, either. Trust me, if I could, I would.

Anxiety isn’t a real disease/you’re looking for attention
Saying anxiety isn’t a real disease is like saying what I’m feeling isn’t real. Trust me, it’s as real to me as a headache (which I get because of the anxiety, btw) and any other issue that I have. People don’t talk about mental illness because they are told it’s not a real thing all the time. We suffer in silence because talking about it is taboo and you think we’re looking for attention. I don’t want to be known as Anxiety Girl. Trust me.

I’m a worrier, too.
I appreciate that, I really do. But worry is not the same thing as anxiety. Worry you can fret, process and move on in a very short amount of time. Anxiety means that you stew, obsess and get to the point where your anxiety pushes you to a place where you no longer feel in control.

Do you suffer from anxiety? What have people said to you that has hurt instead of helped?

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3 Comments

  1. I get terrible, crippling anxiety over single parenting. Other parents (single or not) will say to me, “I stress out sometimes, too, but you and your daughter are going to be okay. You’re doing fine.”

    Will we? Am I? Because these are the questions that eat away at me 24/7. It’s not normal stress; it rules my life and causes me to make very conscious parenting decisions like what’s for dinner (popcorn and a movie and great quality time vs. me cooking alone for an hour while Kimmy plays solo for that time for a mere 20 minutes together at the table) or how we will spend a Saturday out and about to give her some time with her Mommy (regardless of how many chores have piled up for me) when other parents can just decide on a whim. I agonize over very simple choices. It’s an unrelenting fear that something I do could cause my daughter’s should-be perfect and unblemished childhood to be “less than” that of any of her peers.

    Unlike traditional families, I/my daughter don’t have her father around day in and day out. (Would we want him around? No, but that’s another story.) There is no one to take off even an ounce of my pressure. There is no one to split the tasks with or step in when my patience is gone for the whole day. No one else to run errands or clean or just give me a freakin’ hug at the end of the day. So when someone belittles the anxiety that keeps me awake all night several times a week, I want to shake them and scream, instead of just nod and smile.

    Love, acceptance, and an attempt at understanding is greater than judgey behavior any day. I get it. I’m here anytime you need a person to vent to. 🙂

  2. I think when I have had a public attack which I can only recall 3 in last 10 years – I wake anxious almost every morning, but I am talking about it so much no one has time to criticize me. I will tell people play by play what is happening and that I can’t tell them what triggered it and that if they don’t mind me flapping (I swing my arms) or hug myself tight I think I can continue (that is usually a lie). This usually leaves them quietly staring. This last time about a week ago – I think I just got overwhelmed with life. I found I got short of breathe, my mind couldn’t focus on task at hand, I kept repeating myself and making mistake after mistake – I wanted to crawl out of my skin. My student said – you seem really stressed – I had not quite acknowledged to myself that an attack was rearing its ugly head. Funny though I self talk to myself much of the things you say don’t help you. They actually do help me if I say them to myself. I have never experienced anyone saying anything mean – my husband sees this daily and he will do whatever I need – he listens, he hugs tight to make the pain go away in my arms, he listens, he is just there or he will try to help me figure out the trigger and then we talk about that trigger. I do not know why waking up is a trigger, some days it is short and otherdays it takes a while. There was a time about 26 years ago that I had daily public attacks from just a memory brought on my the sound of high heels, replaying the loop tape that runs in my mind constantly when I have had a confrontation of any sort no matter how minor. It took medication attempts and 6 month of intensive therapy but I figured out why criticism bothered me and I fixed it. So now it only happens when I get very overwhelmed with projects or life or if I become sleep deprived. I am never satisfied until I reign it in again and try to find and stop the trigger but I can’t give up sleep. I do not wake up in panic when I take zquill before bed I have noticed that and I sleep very deep and well.

  3. Hi Emily- Thanks for writing about this! Anxiety is so common and it’s good to know those of us with “anxious brain” aren’t alone. I have had anxiety since I can remember (I think I came out of the womb anxious!) but with support and, most importantly, understanding from friends and family, I’m able to keep things in check. For the most part. Some days still suck. Also, I’m a therapist, and I specialize in anxiety treatment. I like to say “it takes one to really KNOW one.” People without chronic anxiety don’t really get it (bless their hearts,they do try). Anyway, thank you for your openness and putting this out there. I’m an SOCC member and I hope we can make acquaintances someday!

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