People with anxiety tend to have persistent fear and worry about everyday situations. In most cases, these feelings are unwarranted — the result of considering “what ifs” that are unlikely to happen.
However, for those with anxiety, these concerns are very real and can be extremely distressing. When someone comes to you with a worry they have, it’s important to know how to respond. But unfortunately, not many people know what to say in these situations, and they end up being unintentionally impolite.
“People say rude things to those with anxiety because they simply do not understand it, and society has not learned how to properly handle these conversations,” said Kelly McKenna, a licensed clinical social worker and anxiety expert. “It might also make you feel uncomfortable when someone else shares their emotions and vulnerabilities with you, which could lead to comments that come off rudely.”
HuffPost spoke with a few therapists and mental health professionals to get insight on the impolite things you can tell someone with anxiety and why they aren’t helpful.
‘It’s All In Your Head. Stop Worrying So Much.’
The person with anxiety knows that it is in their head ― that’s one of the hardest parts. And those with anxiety can’t simply stop worrying so much. It’s not like they can flip a switch to make their anxiety magically disappear. If it was that easy, people wouldn’t feel so anxious all of the time.
“Although one might say this to help ease someone’s anxiety about a situation, it’s actually very dismissive and invalidating,” said Dr. Kristin Gill, a psychiatrist and the chief medical officer at Minded, an online psychiatry company designed for women. “It can come across like something is ‘wrong’ with the person experiencing anxiety and may cause more frustration.”
Anyone with anxiety can tell you that they’ve been told to “calm down” before. (Trust us: If we could, we would.) This kind of comment can be extremely invalidating, especially in moments of distress.
“It’s dismissive and communicates to the person experiencing anxiety that they are too much and are probably irritating whoever is saying this,” said Crystal Britt, a licensed clinical social worker and the founder of Get Psyched Therapy & Coaching. “Anxious people typically already feel like they’re burdening people, so this one just drives the point home.”
‘At Least You Don’t Have It As Bad As...’
You may be familiar with the saying “comparison is the root of all evil,” and a similar idea applies when talking about anxiety. While someone may not have the same set of issues as a friend or family member, that doesn’t make their problems any less valid — they are just different.
“Comparison to a perceived worse lived experience can belittle the emotional experience of the person you’re supporting,” said Leia Charnin, a licensed psychologist and founder of ChangeWell Psych. “When comparisons like this are received, the listener may feel ashamed that they feel anxious. Thus, this feedback can make the receiver feel worse.”
‘Just Power Through It’
It can take a lot of courage to be vulnerable about anxiety with another person, and being met with this phrase can minimize what someone is actually going through.
“It’s not always possible to ‘power through it,’” Gill said. “Someone with a clinical anxiety disorder might not be able to get over it with the snap of a finger. They need support and encouragement to work through their anxiety and make steps towards progress.”
‘You Just Need To Sleep/Exercise/Pray More’
It’s true that sleeping and exercising may help improve symptoms associated with anxiety. However, when someone comes to you expressing concern and worry, this is one of the last things they want to hear.
“Listen, if one simple tweak in our day could fix our anxiety, we would have already done it,” Britt said. “This statement feels like a trump card, communicating that you’re done having a conversation about this. Mental health issues rarely have simple solutions.”
‘It’s Not A Big Deal’
While it may not seem like a big deal to you, the person feeling anxious would highly disagree. That’s one of the most challenging aspects about having anxiety — everything seems worrisome.
“‘It’s not that big of a deal’ is a form of emotional bypassing. While factually this response may make sense to the speaker, the receiver may feel ignored, misunderstood and even more alone,” Charnin said. “This type of message can unintentionally ignore what is important at that moment to the person with whom you’re speaking.”