10 Things I Want Critical People to Understand About Anxiety
1. Telling me to “stop worrying” doesn’t help.
I do not choose to worry — the worries follow me. I actively try not to worry and to think about good things, but sometimes, I can’t control it. I have to ride it out.
2. Talking about my feelings is not “stupid,” and going to therapy is not a waste of time.
I am a verbal processor. This means for me, talking about problems out loud and having someone listen is the best way to work through them. Going to therapy is actually a brave decision because I am making a proactive step to help myself even though I know I will get criticism for it, and even though that criticism is a huge source of anxiety in itself.
3. Sometimes the simplest things are the most anxiety-provoking.
For me, the trigger usually involves another person’s opinion, or the feeling that I disappointed another person or myself. You do not have to understand my triggers to acknowledge that they legitimately affect me. And I fight to overcome them.
4. Every day can be a battle.
I want to have a good day, but sometimes the bad feelings chase me. Until you walk my journey, don’t criticize my steps.
5. My mental health concerns are just as real as someone else’s physical health concerns.
A bad anxiety day can be debilitating. A panic attack can be extremely painful. I cannot “will myself” not to have anxiety. However, just like with any health concern, I can take steps to take care of myself, and that is a choice I make every day.
6. Anxiety is not “all in my head.”
Yes, it is a mental illness, but the brain is as much a physical part of the body as any other organ. Furthermore, anxiety affects other parts of my body as well. My body stays revved like the engine of a car that is not moving (Hahn, Payne, and Lucas, 2012). This causes muscle tension, shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, and chronic fatigue. Sometimes, I am not in control of my body. Sometimes, I cannot relax. Sometimes I can relax, but it takes time and effort. Please be understanding of that.
7. Don’t take my anxiety personally.
If I don’t talk, show up to a social event or return a smile, it is not because I don’t like you. I just don’t have the energy. This tiredness is not because I am lazy or weak. My body is operating on overdrive much of the time, so the same tasks use twice as much energy, and my time alone is necessary for me to refuel.
8. If I have an anxiety attack, it is no one’s “fault.”
It is just my body’s reaction to certain triggers. I can usually think my way out of the attack and physically calm myself. But sometimes, I can’t, and I just have to allow myself to ride it out. Either way, please just give me the space to learn how to handle it, and avoid placing blame.
9. Criticism is not what a person needs when he is feeling anxious.
I may be strong enough to handle your criticism right now without letting it overwhelm me, but another person may not be. I may be strong enough to handle it right now, but another time, I may not be. Your words may really help, or they may really hurt, so please, choose wisely.
10. I am a person just like anyone else.
I have my strengths, and I have my struggles. My particular brand of struggle does not make me “less than” you in any way. I am not a scary person. I am not an anxious person. I am just a person figuring out where I belong in this world and how to work with the particular struggles I’ve been faced with. I’ll be understanding of yours; please be understanding of mine. Just like any other person, I need compassion, kindness, friendship, occasional hugs, and a few good laughs.
Citations: Hahn, D.B., Payne, W.A., & Lucas, E.B. Focus on Health (11 th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012.
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