What Not to Say When Anxiety Attacks (and What to Say Instead)

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So yesterday I came clean about my anxiety issues. Which, ironically, caused all sorts of anxiety for a few hours as I fretted over what all my friends and family would think/say/do.

Now, I just want to talk about what not to say to someone who has anxiety. Yes, all of these have been said to me, so I know exactly how little they helped in my personal situation.

Here are some comments that are unhelpful when anxiety attacks:

1. “It’s not worth getting all worked up over.”

I know. Trust me. The logical part of my brain is screaming this very sentence at me as soon as an actual attack starts to happen. Every logical part of my body knows most of what I’m worried about/anxious about will never come to pass.

If only anxiety were logical.

2. “You’re freaking out over nothing.”

To you, yes. It’s nothing. To me, it’s my worst fears coming true. It might just be a bug to you; to me, it’s a carrier of deadly diseases out to kill me and my dog. It doesn’t help when you tell me it’s nothing. It just makes me feel small and judged.

3. “Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen?”

We don’t want to answer that question. The worst that can happen is the thing that controls our anxiety and our every waking thought in the middle of an attack.

4. “Can’t you take something for that?”

Yes. Sometimes I am on medication. If you’re sick, you take meds, right? Anxiety can be a type of sickness. There was a time when I couldn’t control the anxiety anymore and I went on medication. It doesn’t make me a bad person. But whether or not to be medicated for anxiety is a personal choice. It’s also a hard choice. There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. Please don’t make us feel bad about our choice to not medicate either.

5. “Your faith isn’t strong enough/you don’t trust God enough/you’re not praying enough.”

This one is worth a whole blog on its own. But, as a Christian, you would not believe the number of times someone has equated my anxiety with my faith. Just because I have anxiety doesn’t mean I don’t trust God. It doesn’t mean I don’t try hard to follow Him. It doesn’t mean I don’t spend hours in prayer. Anxiety isn’t about faith. Faith, quite frankly, is the only thing that gets me through anxious thoughts sometimes.

6. “Just breathe. Calm down.”

Breathing is second nature to most people. And yes, deep breathing has helped my anxiety immensely because it gives me something to focus on other than whatever is causing the attack. But, there is not amount of breathing that can make everything “better.” Don’t tell me to calm down, either. Trust me, if I could, I would.

7. “Anxiety isn’t a real disorder/you’re looking for attention.”

Saying anxiety isn’t a real disorder is like saying what I’m feeling isn’t real. Trust me, it’s as real to me as a headache (which I get because of the anxiety, by the way) and any other issue I have. People don’t talk about mental illness because they are told it’s not a real thing all the time. We suffer in silence because talking about it is taboo and you think we’re looking for attention. I don’t want to be known as Anxiety Girl. Trust me.

8. “I’m a worrier, too.”

I appreciate that, I really do. But worry is not the same thing as anxiety. Worry you can fret, process and move on in a reasonable amount of time. Anxiety means you stew, obsess and get to the point where your anxiety pushes you to a place where you no longer feel in control.

Instead, this is what I’d rather hear:

1. “How can I help?”

Most of the time, dealing with anxiety and combating a panic attack is a personal thing. Everyone is different, so ask the people in your life (individually) what you can do to help them with their anxiety. The best time to ask this is when they are not in the middle of a panic attack, FYI. They may need you to do nothing, or they may give you ways you can support them (like being someone they can text at 2:00 a.m. if needed, someone to run errands if they’re in a really bad place, etc).

2. “Is it OK if I hug/touch/comfort you?”

If you know me, you know I am a hugger. I love to give and receive hugs and physical touch is definitely a love language. Except when I’m panicking. If I’m in the middle of a really stressful attack, I don’t want to be touched. For me, a hug right at that moment feels suffocating. So, ask before you hug/comfort.

3. “What’s the worst that you think will happen?”

Yes, this was on the “what not to say” list, as well. It’s all about tone with this question. Sometimes my husband asks me what’s the worst that can happen and it helps me realize I’m freaking out over something that is highly unlikely, if not completely unlikely. Case in point: I used to have panic attacks every time my husband left for an overnight trip. I was convinced something horrible would happen to our dog, who he adores. In my anxiety/panic/illogical state I then convinced myself that if something happened to the dog, my husband would leave me. (Yes, writing it out makes me realize how silly it was). So, him asking about the worst thing that could happen prompted us to have a conversation about my fears and help me work through them.

The difference is he asked because he was trying to help me work through my anxiety, not minimize it.

4. “I love you. I accept you. Just as you are.”

One of the underlying fears of anxiety issues (at least in my circle) is that our disorder makes us unlovable and unaccepted. When we panic about something small, we are also panicking our anxiety will make the people we have in our lives turn away from us. Remind us, especially when things are rough, that you love us and you accept all of us, not just the parts of us you see when we have our anxiety under control.

5. “I believe in you.”

I know the things I fear and worry about seem silly to most people. What I need from you is to believe that I believe they are real. You don’t have to believe they’re true, but I need you to believe that, in my head, this is what I think is going to happen. We can talk through it and work through what is imagined fear and what is legitimate, but validate my feelings. Believe in me when I say I want to get better. Believe in me when I say I don’t know how to get better.

Above all, remember that people with anxiety need to be loved and trusted and supported. We need to know you aren’t judging us because of our illness. We need to know we can trust you with the anxious parts of our hearts and the non-anxious parts of our hearts. We need to know that you won’t run away when we panic and that you’ll help us pick up the pieces when an attack is over.

Follow this journey on The Journey.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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23 Songs That Help People Get Through Anxious Moments

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Anxiety can strike at any moment. And when it does, we need tools to help us through. Although breathing techniques and other exercises can help manage our racing thoughts and accelerated heartbeats, sometimes a simple song can help calm us down and get us through a tough moment.

So, we asked people in our mental health community to share what songs help in particularly anxious moments. It might give you inspiration to add to your own playlist.

Here are some of the songs they shared:

1. “Be Still” by The Fray

“When darkness comes upon you and covers you with fear and shame, be still and know that I’m with you, and I will say your name.”

Submitted by Kaitlyn Mueller: “The music itself is so soothing, but the lyrics really make you just stop and breathe.”

2. “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens

“Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light. Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?”

 Submitted by Abby Ferron: “Positive thinking, even if the worst happens.”

3. “Seasons of Love” from RENT

“How do you measure a year in the life — how about love?”

Submitted by Sacha Batra: “Reminds me how precious life is, to look at the big picture, and realize how blessed you are.”

4.”The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World

“Hey, don’t write yourself off yet. It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on. Just try your best, try everything you can. And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.”

Submitted by Cait Ruth

5. “There, There Katie” by Jack’s Mannequin

“Katie, I’m sorry that in your condition the sunshines been missing, but Katie, don’t believe that it isn’t there.”

Submitted by Katharina Munzig

6. “You Are My Sunshine” as sung by Johnny Cash

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Submitted by Sharyn Bell: “‘You Are My Sunshine’ is my go to song. My Nanna used to sing it to me when I was upset, and hold me tight in her arms and rock back and forth. Now when I sing it, I find myself cuddling myself and rocking back and forth — it’s the only way I can gain focus after a bad episode of anxiety. Life’s hard but that song helps me every day.”

7. “Under Pressure” by Queen & David Bowie

“Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love that one more chance?”

Submitted by Keith Gottschalk: “The tension builds with the song – it’s like a panic attack set to music. ‘It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about/watching some good friends screaming, let me out!’ I can’t think of a better explanation for the anxiety I experience than that line. But just when the song builds to a breakdown, there’s the saving grace: ‘Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves’ – there’s this crushing, beautiful catharsis that we’re not along in our suffering. We are ‘the people on the edge of the night.’ Empathy, understanding, love and self-forgiveness are what I take from this song. Our ‘weakness’ is our strength, our humanity. This is ourselves. And I feel better.”

 8. “A Quiet Mind” by Blue October 

“Give me a quiet mind and I…I love you. You give me a quiet mind and I…I love you.”

Submited by Hannah Elle

8. “Details in the Fabric” by Jason Mraz

“Calm down, deep breaths, and get yourself dressed instead of running around and pulling on your threads and breaking yourself up.”

Submitted by Abbey Dunson: “I listen to this song on repeat until my anxiety goes away. It calms my mind and gives me hope for the future through the music and the lyrics. I actually have part of the chorus tattooed on my worst. There have been times where I can’t leave the room and listen to it, so I just look at my wrist and sing it in my head.”

9. “La Vie En Rose” by Louis Armstrong

“And when you speak, angels sing from above, everyday words seem to turn into love songs.”

Submitted by Shelby Munson: “The tempo helps me calm down, and the lyrics remind me that life is beautiful when my anxiety is telling me that everything is chaos.”

12. “Hanging By a Moment” by Lifehouse 

“I’m desperate for changing, starving for truth. I’m closer to where I started chasing after.” 

Submitted by Kelly Leskiw: “Lifehouse has always been my vice. They have brought me through some of my darkest days.”

13. “Be Calm” by fun.

“Be calm, I know you feel like you are breaking down. I know that it gets so hard sometimes. Be calm.”

Submitted by Sharon Fischer

14. “Lose It” by Oh Wonder

“Move your feet and feel it in the space between, you gotta give yourself a moment, let your body be. We gotta lose it.”

Submitted by Taryn Heil

15. “Make My Own Sunshine” by Olivia Lane

“Hey, hey, I’m OK. Hanging right here in my happy place.”

Submitted by Jess Daly

16. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? And can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Oh, oh I don’t know.”

Submitted by Froggy Robby

 17. “Lost” by Michael Bublé

“‘Cause you are not alone, and I am there with you. And we’ll get lost together ’til the light comes pouring through.”

Submitted by Wendy Thompson: “It reminds me that I’m not lost and I do have friends and family around me that love me.”

18. “Heart of a Lion” by Kid Cudi

“At the end of the day, day, my momma told me don’t let no one break me. Let no one break me.”

Submitted by Caroline De Coursey

19. “Don’t Carry It All” by The Decemberists

“Let the yoke fall from our shoulders, don’t carry it all, don’t carry it all. We are all our hands and holders beneath this bold and brilliant sun.”

Submitted by Casey Bee

20. “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers

“So now I’m standing on the overpass screaming at the cars, ‘Hey, I wanna get better!'”

Submitted by Ashlee Schuler

21. “Car Radio” by Twenty One Pilots

“I hate this car that I’m driving, there’s no hiding for me. I’m forced to deal with what I feel. There is no distraction to mask what is real.”

Submitted by Josh Edward

22. “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls

“And I don’t want the world to see me ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand. When everything’s meant to be broken. I just want you to know who I am.”

Submitted by Emma Wood

23. “Rylynn” by Andy McKee

Submitted by Sarah S

 

What song calms you down when you’re feeling anxious? Tell us in the comments below:

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When You Can't Help but Compare Yourself to People Without Depression or Anxiety

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I possess the unique combination of unwavering determination and paralyzing uncertainty. Until recently, I didn’t realize my anxiety probably played a large part in why I feel these things. I’m determined to always do more because I never feel like I’m doing enough, but I don’t know if the things I’m doing are the things I should be doing. It’s a conundrum, I’m aware.

I look at the people around me who seem so sure of themselves. They have this idea of what they want to do and how they’re going to get there. I’m not sure I’ve ever really felt that way. I have questioned almost every path I’ve ever gone down. Not only do I wonder if it’s the right path, but I also question my ability to make it down that path. Everyone else seems so much more qualified than me. They’re more organized. They do their hair every morning and put on makeup every day of the week instead of getting 15 more minutes of sleep. They probably don’t have sandwich condiments in their purse or receipts from two years ago.

I get so frustrated with myself sometimes. I feel like I should be better than this. I should be more capable of fighting off the depression that has been looming over my life lately. I should be more. I should be better. These are statements I’m constantly telling myself. There are days when I just feel like a colossal failure. The depression and anxiety I’m battling exhaust me, and I have no desire or motivation to do anything else, which makes me feel even worse.

You see, I compare myself to everyone around me who isn’t fighting these battles. I am so focused on how functional their lives seem and how dysfunctional I feel that I forget no one’s life is perfect. I forget to give myself credit for the little things and celebrate my small victories. I forget perfection isn’t attainable. I forget to give myself the advice I would give someone else in these situations.

I am not just sad. I am battling depression. I am a warrior, and this is my fight. Every day I go to battle. Some days, I may lose. I have to remind myself I haven’t lost the war, I’ve only lost the battle and getting up every morning and fighting that battle is, in itself, a victory.

Your war may not be the same as my war, but I commend you for getting up every morning and fighting your battle, whatever it may be. You’re not always going to know where the next day will take you, but one thing I’ve realized is it’s important to remember you deserve love just as much as anyone else. Give yourself love on those tough days. Be gentle with yourself. You will figure out where you’re going and what you’re meant to do. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will happen. When it does, all of these battles you’ve been fighting will have prepared you for it. They’ve made you stronger. They’ve made you wiser.

Today, I’m sending you as much love as I can fit onto this page. I hope it helps heal some of your battle scars.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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An Almost Apology for the Days My Anxiety Wins

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There’s something I need to apologize for. And it’s the same reason I cry when you tell me you love me. Without fail… every time… I cry.

I am not saying I am ashamed of myself, I’m not apologizing out of shame. I recognize that my struggle does not lessen my intrinsic value or make me less worthy of love and affection than anyone else. I know I am strong and capable, and I deserve happiness as much as anyone else. I also know what you go through on my behalf and how hard you try. I see the sacrifices you make, the effort you put in, the silent surrender to the days when I am not fully able. I see how it hurts when you can’t fix it and how you wish a word, an embrace, a kiss could change things for the better in an instant. I know you don’t want me to be in pain.

I revere it. I recognize it. I respect it. I love you so desperately for it.

You know who you are, there’s no need for direct address or details. There are things I could say, that I could express, that are too intimate for this platform. So, instead, I will say what I am sure many others themselves wish they could say to loved ones of their own: I am sorry for the days when my anxiety wins.

I know in a lot of ways, this probably was not what you expected or even wanted. But that’s the beauty of it all: even in the darkest moments, you never seemed to flinch in your commitment. I had a hard time accepting anyone could do that for me. But in time, I saw in your eyes, I am a whole person, even when I can’t see it. You don’t see someone sick, you see someone strong. You don’t see a woman who feels invalidated as an individual or requires more of an “effort” than maybe more “normal” people. You see a woman who wakes up every day knowing there’s a battle and facing it full on. You see a woman of courage. And even on the days of irrational fear, panic and paranoia, you stay. You whisper you love me.

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And I cry every time.

I cry because of the grace, patience, acceptance and love you demonstrate every day. When I hurt you, when I blame you, when I can’t perceive reality correctly but instead fall victim to the terrifying lie that everything is falling apart and it’s my fault, you work through it with me. You walk through it with me.

I am so sorry you have to be witness to the mess I can make of myself. And the mess I can make of us. But then I remember you’re not sorry at all. You love me. And I stop apologizing and simply experience the full, loving embrace of deep gratitude. There are so many out there who don’t have that kind of support and encouragement; they battle this alone. I hope and pray someday I can be the pillar of strength for someone the way you have been for me.

Thank you. I love you.

The Mighty is asking the following: What do you want your past, current or future partner to know about being with someone with your disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
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To You, Who Loves Me Through My Anxiety

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I know at times you don’t understand this dark shadow that follows me. It has to be hard fighting those demons you don’t feel, let alone see. Many times I feel like I’m spiraling downward with nothing to help stop me, just endlessly falling into a black abyss with no hope to catch me.

I had always been afraid of you seeing that dark side, but you waited patiently for me to let you in.

Before you, I just kept pushing down all of the haunted feelings, letting them eventually build and bubble over. It wasn’t healthy, but I’m not one to admit I need help. Now, you’re the bright light, the fighter of my shadows, the hand that catches me. When I’m in that dark corner feeling like I’m losing my mind, you don’t look at me like I’m crazy — you look at me like you care. I’ve never had that. The concern in your eyes is enough to bring tears to mine.

Let me try to explain how I see and feel an “episode” through my eyes: It starts with just a nagging gut feeling, then the thoughts of being not good enough start creeping in. Then it takes all I have to not cry and disconnect from the world. Sometimes I do feel it would be a better place if I just hid away. From there, I just can’t muster up the strength, no matter how hard I try, to be happy.

Then, just when I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, you appear. You pull me in and hug all my broken pieces together. You never take your supportive hands off me, and you look right in my eyes and say the most important words I will ever hear in my life — “I am here for you and everything will be fine.” You remind me the feeling will pass and that I am so so so loved.

Finally, you never take credit. You try to make me feel empowered. I love that you say I did it, I conquered my anxiety. But I didn’t do it alone. You were the big reason I made it out. I wish everyone who is accompanied by anxiety had someone as selfless and caring as you. You are my support, my bright light and most importantly my best friend.

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I just want to say thank you.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Teacher Who Said I'd Never Make It to Senior Year

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Though I was only diagnosed my freshman year of high school, I have been dealing with symptoms of depression and anxiety my whole life. During my freshman year of college, my mental health hit its lowest point in a lifelong spiral downward, and the one person I wanted to talk to didn’t understand me. 

Now, this is what I want her to know:

Dear Favorite Teacher,

I doubt you’ll ever read this. I’ll probably never even tell you anything that’s in here. There are some things people don’t want to know about others, and I’m assuming this counts for you.

I remember when I told you I had anxiety. I don’t remember how the conversation came up. But we’ve discussed it briefly a few times since. No, it’s not “just a phase.” It probably won’t pass after my freshman year of college is over. I can’t just get over it or turn it off. It’s crippling and exhausting. It means questioning everything I do, worrying about and imagining the negative effects of everything. I throw up. I can’t eat. I lock myself in my room alone, break down, shake and cry inconsolably. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. But I don’t show you, or anyone, any of it, because I worry people will hate me.

Remember when you told me, “If you have this much anxiety now, you’ll never make it to senior year”? I do. I’ll never forget. It never made me mad, but it hurt like hell. Still does. And that’s not the anxiety talking; I have depression, too. Regret and guilt and sadness make up my daily life. I have no motivation for anything. I constantly break down, regretting my whole life and hating everything about myself. I have many scars you’ll never see. I’m an empty shell of hurt and pain, covered with a thin, fragile and very fake layer of sassiness and confidence. But you have no idea how close you came to being right.

No, I didn’t drop out. But suicide attempts do exist. There’s a reason I missed a whole week of your class mid-semester. I wonder what you would say if you knew.

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I’m not asking for favors or pity. I don’t even expect you to understand. But I do wish you would listen. Because there are things you don’t know about me.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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