Yesterday I posted a link to an article about things not to say to someone with anxiety. The list included things like “Yeah I worry about stuff too” or “It’s not a big deal.”
This prompted a discussion about what is ok to say with someone with anxiety. There are many people living with loved ones or dealing with friends with mental health issues who cannot relate themselves.
Silence seems inappropriate to many people, but clearly the trite axioms employed by most people are less than helpful too.
So what can you say?
1. You are right, things are tough right now
Sometimes a person with anxiety is looking for external validation: “You’re right, this sucks, your feelings are valid.” Telling someone that things are fine invalidates their perfectly reasonable (although perhaps irrational) feelings.
2. What do you need from me?
This one may be a bit controversial. My husband often asks me this when I’m upset. Usually my answer is “I don’t know,” and I’m sure it has occasionally set me off on a rant of some sort (“I don’t need anything I just need to be better!!!”). I think we’ve both come to an unspoken agreement, however, that this is a good way to say “I want to help” without being overbearing about it.
3. I’m sorry you are dealing with all this
When I’m depressed or anxious, I don’t need “life tips” on how to approach my situation. I’m doing the best I can with what I have right now. Some days I “have” more than I do on other days. I have a mental illness that cannot just be flipped on and off with positive affirmations (although those can sometimes help…but not coming from outside yourself).
Sometimes silence is the answer. Sometimes a person dealing with difficult feelings needs a sounding board, not someone to give advice.
5. I love/care about/appreciate you
Anxiety, depression, and other problems can make a person feel less than desireable to friends, family, and partners. While it may not alleviate the pain we are dealing with at the time, it can help us feel valuable when we feel useless to ourselves.