*** Talking About Anxiety is part 8 in a series of posts. If you want to read part 1, click here. You don’t have to read the entire series to understand each individual post, but they are written to be complimentary to each other! ***
As usual: I am NOT a doctor, and I am not formally educated on mental illness. You should see a doctor to learn about your options.
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Are you dealing with your anxiety alone?
Are you finding it hard to start talking about anxiety with friends and family? Maybe they know, but they brush it off like it’s not a big deal. Maybe you’ve been told one too many times that you’re being a bit ridiculous, or you’ve been called a hypochondriac or a conspiracy theorist or my favorite one – dramatic? Or something else that was a little hurtful (even if it was maybe a little truthful)?
Anything that sets us apart has the potential to make us withdraw from our people. I think it’s a particularly prominent risk when it comes to anxiety, because so often we KNOW our anxiety seems a bit over the top to people who don’t understand it.
And how can they understand it? If you’ve recently developed anxiety maybe you can remember what it’s like to watch someone have a full on panic attack – and admit it – they might have seemed a little dramatic or ridiculous to you at the time. Especially if you couldn’t see a single thing that might be the cause of such panic. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember, so I don’t totally relate to what it must be like to see someone melt down for “no reason”, but I imagine that it’s fair to say that it’d be hard to understand.
One of my favorite people developed anxiety in the post-partum period of her life after her first baby (that’s not unusual by the way). And she said to me (more or less), “You know, I used to pray that God would give me your anxiety so you didn’t have to have it – because I thought I could handle it better than you. I thought my threshold for tolerance of anxiety would be so much higher than whatever yours must be. But now I understand that it’s completely overwhelming, and you were always doing the best you could.”
The fact that she didn’t understand what I was going through didn’t make her love me any less (in fact, her love was so evident that it makes me a little teary to think of it!) but her love didn’t give her the ability to understand what anxiety is like either.
Which leaves us a little bit between a rock and a hard place.
What should you do if your people don’t understand?
I guess maybe you’d expect me to say something like “MAKE them understand! They NEED to know what it’s like for you!”
But the truth is that’s not always how it’s gonna be. I do think that it’s important to communicate about anxiety and in a perfect world they would understand, but this world is far from perfect. So before I go on, I’m actually going to say that I think YOU should be the one to try and be understanding. Nope, it’s not fair. And you shouldn’t quit trying to help them understand (well, unless they are downright mean…some people are really broken, and that’s not your fault). But when someone who is on your side suggests that you might be a bit dramatic or suggests that your fear is sort of crazy, it’s ok to not be offended. It’s ok to remind yourself that they probably have no idea how to respond and what they are saying probably sounds helpful to them.
Have you ever tried to really explain anxiety?
Ok, so after you understand that a break has to be given somewhere, and that it’s alright if you’re the one who’s giving the break, NOW I’ll say that you should try to make your friends and family understand. Have an in-depth (perhaps difficult and soul-baring) conversation where you explain that anxiety is real, that you don’t know how to stop it and that you are working on it, but you might need their help.
Saying “I have anxiety, some things are hard for me” and leaving it at that while you refuse to join them at the party / on the roller coaster / in the water is not at all helping them to understand.
If you need some ideas of exactly how to start or to have the conversation wikihow actually has a “how to tell your family about anxiety” and here’s another one on talking about anxiety at health central. It’s a big deal! If it’s not something that you can naturally bring up, then do some reading on talking about anxiety, do some praying, and write down what you want to say if you think that will help. It’s ok to be nervous.
You also don’t need to tell EVERYONE in your life about it, especially if you feel particularly self conscious. I’m not suggesting you should carry a sign and tell every acquaintance about your horrible anxiety (don’t be that guy – there’s a reason people think that guy is crazy). You could (hopefully) have a few family and friends who will know about your anxiety and who will support you in fighting it. (If you have absolutely no one in you life you can talk to or who will try to understand you, I would strongly suggesting finding a support group – even one online.)
Be ready to explain what you are doing about your anxiety or what you want to be doing about it
It’s very difficult to try to explain your situation to anyone and expect them to understand it, if you tell them that you aren’t interested in trying to get better. It’s hard to accept that someone might have a real problem if they don’t want to solve it. (And I think that you SHOULD want to solve it! Even if that feels exhausting sometimes.)
When people make suggestions to you of things that might help, don’t just brush them off or get irritated at them. Either explain why you know that it won’t be beneficial (without being defensive) or open your mind a little and take their suggestion on board.
I also think it’s super great if you can tell the person you’re confiding in how they can specifically help you. It doesn’t have to be complicated either. My husband doesn’t understand my anxiety, but he knows that if a commercial for a horror movie comes on, he can mute the TV and warn me not to look. That’s all it takes for me to feel supported by him. Having an actionable way that he can support me helps him to deal with the fact that I have anxiety.
Having someone you can call anytime to have them talk you through an anxious situation can be all you need to get through it. If you (like me) find that being told patiently that whatever you’re worried about is a bit silly, then have someone who is capable of doing that for you. (Bonus – it’s even easier to admit to someone that you’re having anxiety if you know that THEY already know that it’s ok for them to say “don’t be scared, that’s probably not going to happen”.)
If you have no idea where to start in dealing with your anxiety, I’d suggest you read through some of the previous posts in this series. You could try changing your diet, or taking natural supplements, or working out. Maybe read through them with your spouse or a friend who is willing to spend a little time with you and talk about some things you’d like to try. Not feeling all alone can be a huge help for anxiety.
Remember that you’re not the only one that your anxiety is hard for. It’s confusing and scary when someone you love tells you that their brain has turned on them. If your family and friends are willing, read through some articles with them like 12 things to know if someone you love has anxiety and talk about which things feel like they relate to you and which things don’t. Not everything will relate to you! I have read about 1000 times that “people with anxiety know their anxiety is often unrealistic and they don’t have to be told it’s unrealistic”. That’s probably true for lots of people. I know my anxiety is unrealistic, but it feels realistic to me. When someone takes the time to tell me patiently that it’s a bit ridiculous, I actually find that very calming. It reminds me that my reality is not necessarily reality, and then I can consider that my brain might be… wrong. Being told patiently that I’m ridiculous is very different than having someone roll their eyes at me though.
You might find you’re not alone when you start talking about anxiety
Anxiety is so common, you might even find that one of your close friends or family have experienced it in the past. You might find that all you need is someone to support you in calling a therapist to book an appointment, or to go with you to the dentist and hold your hand. (No joke, I had my mom hold my head still while the Dr did laser eye surgery on me. I wanted the surgery, but there was no way I could stop shaking.) One of my best friends struggled with anxiety for awhile and she would call to ask for prayer or just to talk.
There’s all sorts of healing power in sharing our struggles. Talking about anxiety will help everyone to understand it better. Do you have any advice for how to share your anxiety with family or friends? Particularly for people who have newly developed anxiety? I’d love to add your tips here!
Read Part 1 of The Ultimate Guide to Living (Well) With Anxiety
Read Part 2 – Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Read Part 3 – Understanding Panic Attacks
Read Part 4 – Anxiety and Diet
Read Part 5 – Natural Supplements for Anxiety
Read Part 6 – What can Exercise do for Anxiety?
Read Part 7 – Do Not Feed the Fears
Read Part 9 – For the Christian with Anxiety
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