Things for your loved ones to know when you have anxiety

For anyone with an anxiety disorder, or anyone just going through a stressful time…this post is for you. Er, well, it’s kind of for your friends and family…but also for you. You know what, just read it. I decided to write this post following a bit of intense anxiety in myself, and knowing my beloved soul sister experiences similar anxiety to me, I asked her for some input. The “I” in the post is more of a metaphorical one…. while these things wholeheartedly apply to anyone with anxiety, they are also true for my friend and I.

My hope is that you will find this post, and in a tough time, you will share it with a loved one or with friends. Because, let’s face it, when you are spinning out of control with anxiety, putting words to what you need is next to impossible at times. And heck, a lot of the time, one doesn’t even know what they need. So this ones for you, you beautiful soul:

Whoa world, slow down. When I’m in the midst of an anxiety spiral, I need the world around me to slow down just a bit. My mind is spinning thousands of miles per minute and if the world is moving around me just as fast, all it does is accelerates my anxious mind. Think of my mind like a merry-go-round (you know, the children’s play ride at parks…those puke-inducing joys of childhood). Like a merry-go-round, my mind is spinning….the world around me is the person outside the merry-go-round who can either push the toy faster and faster, or they can stand still, grab a bar and drag it to a stop. I need you to drag it to a stop.

Slowing down can mean different things to different people. Sometimes it means not adding extra things to their plate, sometimes it means taking a short time from responsibilities, and sometimes it means having someone take something off your plate. My tip to those who are anxiously spinning? When you are in a state of calm, or at least not spinning with anxiety, figure out what slowing down is for you so you can communicate it when you are overwhelmed.

I need my supportive relationships. Ask, ask, ask “what can I do to help?”. I may say I don’t know, and it’s not because I’m trying to be difficult, it’s because I really don’t know. But the simple act of you asking, tells me someone is there for me so that when I do figure it out, I have someone I can depend on. During these times, I need to be surrounded by positive and supportive people. Even if I don’t know that’s what I need. I need you to just sit with me…no expectations of “what will we do”, just let sitting with me be okay. I need to know I’m not burdening you and I need you to initiate this contact with me. I know this is a lot to ask, and everyone has their own sh** going on….but even just a momentary text message of “how are you doing?” Or a phone call. Or anything to let me know I don’t have to do it alone.

You see, when someone is physically ill, we check in on them. We ask what we can do to help, we offer support. This isn’t different. I have said it once I’ll say it again…your brain is an organ and it is subject to disease and illness just like every other organ in your body. Check on the people you care about folks!

Don’t take it personal. Anxiety makes me take things around me and my own negative thoughts too personally and then that leads to me spewing off about things and acting ridiculous. I may come off as cranky, or irritable. I may say something that sounds insensitive because I’m too wrapped up in my own anxiety to focus on the way I’m presenting myself to other people (Once, I told my husband to “just shut up” when he was asking me what I needed him to do to help me…after I calmed down, I felt really bad about that one and apologized. Thankfully, he forgave me). Please understand, I don’t mean to put this out there as an “excuse” for someone with anxiety to treat their loved ones poorly- it’s not. If you have an anxiety disorder and you’re reading this: IT IS NOT AN EXCUSE TO TREAT YOUR LOVED ONES LIKE CRAP. But in the event that you do say something insensitive, or come off as irritable to an undeserving loved one- when you calm down, apologize and figure out what you can do, and they can help you with, to keep it from happening again. Essentially what we’re saying by don’t take it personal is, just because I seem a little cranky, or I go off about something that seems irrational or ridiculous, it doesn’t mean I don’t like you or want you in my life.

Learn more to understand. If you aren’t someone who typically deals with an anxiety, but maybe you have loved ones who deal with this I greatly encourage you to learn more about what they are going through. Educating yourself through reading, listening to music, and listening to them can help you gain more understanding. The following is our suggested list of easily accessible things to read or listen to:

Songs

Books

Trust that what seems irrational to you, is very real to me at this moment. This one is a hard one for many family members and friends to be compassionate about I have learned in my own personal experience and listening to others talk in my profession. Think of anxiety like a tornado. It’s spinning dust and debris up, and it’s hard to see anything when you are near it. Get away from it or have it stop, and the dust settles and you can see clearly again. Anxiety is like this, when you are in the middle of an anxiety spiral it is often difficult to see things clearly. You may know what you are thinking is irrational, but it’s hard to see any other way, it’s very real to me. Telling me I’m being irrational or silly is only going to make my anxiety worse, and I’m going to feel like you don’t really have my back. Instead, offer alternatives.

I have been fortunate in my life to have loved ones who can see when I’m anxious and instead of telling me what I’m thinking is silly, they offer me an alternative thought. For example, if I’m panicking about the “what if this happens…” my dad will say “yeah, what if it does? we will do this then.”. Offering solutions and alternative (healthier) ways to think about things can be just what a person in the middle of an anxiety spiral needs. It helps us calm and center ourselves, it offers us support and let’s us know that even if the sh** does hit the fan, IT WILL BE OKAY.

Of course there is so much more to be said about what anxiety feels like and what can help someone you care about with anxiety. Hopefully this list will be enough to start the conversation though.

This post was written with the help of my friend Candice. I couldn’t have come up with these wonderful ways of articulating what anxiety feels like without her! She is inspiring, awesome, and like me, she deals with anxiety. Thank you Candice!

Until next time,

Jenn

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