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What Not to Say to Someone with an Anxiety Disorder

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We all want to support our friends and family members who suffer from anxiety disorders, but there are many misconceptions about anxiety disorders and mental illness in general. Oftentimes, you might mean well but ultimately end up doing harm, which can make your loved one frustrated, alienated, or reluctant to ask for help. If you know someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, here’s what you definitely shouldn’t say.

“Just relax.”

Telling someone with anxiety to relax is counterproductive and it might even make things worse. You can’t force yourself to relax and the attempt is often frustrating. Someone suffering from anxiety would like nothing more than to just relax and making the suggestion only adds pressure. Instead, try something like, “Would you like to go somewhere so you can take a minute to calm down?” or perhaps a concrete suggestion, like taking a few deep breaths. Most importantly, realize that anxiety is mostly an automatic process that’s very difficult to control once it gets going. Patience and support are usually the best course of action.

“You should try meditation.”

When someone finds out you have an anxiety disorder, she always has a suggestion, whether it’s meditation, yoga, exercise, tea, or some other remedy. These are often helpful, but they’re rarely enough on their own. What’s more, someone with a diagnosed anxiety disorder has likely heard it all. She might be exercising and meditating every day, eating right, and doing everything else and still have an occasional anxiety attack. Getting anxiety under control typically takes therapy, sometimes medications, and almost always a lot of practice.

“You should have a drink.”

Alcohol temporarily enhances the effect of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which calms you down, but the improvement is short-lived and then anxiety often comes back even worse. More importantly, relying on alcohol to manage anxiety can easily lead to an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is short-acting and easy to get. Self-medicating anxiety with alcohol – or any other drug – is just asking for trouble. And because anxiety disorders and substance use disorders frequently occur alongside one another, it’s possible that they’ve struggled with addictions in the past. Perpetuating the idea that alcohol can alleviate anxiety can lead to disaster, especially if the person is not actively engaged in a program of recovery. 

“I know how you feel.”

Everyone feels anxious sometimes, but an anxiety disorder transcends typical anxiety. Anxious brains work differently. Instead of finding equilibrium, they create feedback loops which make anxiety worse and worse. If you haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to imagine how intense it can be. Unless you have actually had an anxiety disorder, don’t don’t assume that you know how it feels. Even if you have had an anxiety disorder, it might be better to let that experience guide you rather than bring it up.

Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renown clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.

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