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Why It’s OK When Others Don't Understand Your Anxiety


Humans crave being understood.

Especially humans with anxiety.

Often other people don’t understand why we behave the way we do.

They may not understand our abrupt need to flee the room. Our tears and shallow breathing. Our unlikely and outrageous fears.

They may not understand why we might need to psych ourselves up to do something seemingly simple like make a phone call or leave the house.

Or why we spend a whole day analyzing a single comment or gesture.

Or why we redo things that were fine the first time because they need to be “perfect.”

They might be surprised by our “sudden” outbursts or breakdowns, completely unaware that our calm demeanor is almost always masking a state of internal panic.

They may be confused when comments like “you’re overreacting” or “you’re lucky compared to most people in the world,” make us more upset than we already are.

Often, they don’t see we’re aware of the illogical nature of our anxiety. That we know we’re being irrational, but don’t know how to make ourselves think or act differently.

So what would life be like if everyone understood anxiety?

Life would be easier if people just understood. We would find ourselves in fewer awkward positions and uncomfortable situations. We would have fewer arguments. Our stress would decrease. There would be less frustration from all sides. We wouldn’t have to struggle to explain a condition that we ourselves don’t fully understand.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to make others instantly understand or accept us. Some people will never understand or sympathize with our anxiety.

And that’s OK.

Not everyone has to understand. Not everyone has to know why we act and think and feel the way we do. They don’t need to like us or believe us. Not everyone even needs to know that we have anxiety.

But it is important to have a support system.

We should have people in our lives who are familiar with anxiety and its manifestations. It’s comforting to occasionally hear: “I get it,” or “you’re not crazy.” It’s vital to know you’re not alone.

That being said, we don’t need everyone in our life to be able to relate to our illness. I used to think this was a requirement for closeness. It makes things easier, but relationships are messy. People are imperfect. We connect with each other on many different levels. It’s nice to think our family and friends and romantic partners will all become anxiety experts, but it’s just not always a reality. Chances are, the closest people in your life will make some adjustments around your anxiety, but they still may never get it. The good news is that’s not really necessary. They don’t need to understand us completely in order to give us their love and support. In fact, there’s something beautiful in them loving and accepting us without needing to understand.

Often, when we’re asking for understanding, we’re actually asking for permission. We’re asking for affirmation. We’re asking for approval.

We want to know that we’re OK. We want to be sure it’s not our fault.

We crave this affirmation, but the truth is that we don’t really need it. In the end, it’s irrelevant whether or not someone can see our anxiety and properly diagnose and dissect it.

There doesn’t always need to be an explanation. It doesn’t make our experience any less valid. You don’t need to justify it to anyone. We know it’s real.

Our success and happiness isn’t dependent on other people understanding our anxiety. Only on us understanding it.

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