When a person we care about comes to us with a problem, naturally, we want to fix it. But not every problem can be solved by a simple suggestion, and not everyone who wants support is seeking unsolicited advice. This is especially true when someone opens up about struggling with anxiety — and is a key difference between showing someone support and belittling their disorder with a suggestion or a “quick fix.”
Because more than advice, people with anxiety need understanding. To learn what people with anxiety don’t need to hear, we asked people in our mental health community to share one piece of unhelpful advice they’ve gotten for managing anxiety, from people who meant well but don’t get it.
7. “‘Just use your logic. What you’re feeling is ridiculous, you should know that. If you tell yourself that, the anxiety will go away.’ As if I don’t already understand that what I’m feeling is illogical, it doesn’t stop me from from feeling anxious, it just makes me feel worse about myself and my situation. — Liss W.
8. “‘…Oh, everyone gets nervous though so just don’t worry,’ after I’d just opened up to someone about my mental illness to be brave and have them understand a little more about me. It didn’t help, it shut me down and downplayed what I go through (and what others go through). It’s not just nerves.” — Cathy R.
9. “Anyone that uses the word ‘just’ before providing ‘tips’ needs to consider the thought that if it was ‘just’ that easy then we could ‘just’ ‘get over it.’ I’ve been told life isn’t that bad, read the Bible, remember how wonderful your life is, I’ve had something similar, ‘just’ breathe and meditate and pray. If you’re anything like me, you’ve read books and articles on how to get a hold of it and you’ve tried meditation and yoga and exercise. The brain has its own mind when neurotransmitters are stuck in a loop.” — Mike P.
10. “My biggest pet peeve is when I’m feeling anxious about something or everything and someone tells me to relax. If I could relax, I wouldn’t be anxious. That makes me feel worse about my anxiety because I can’t just turn it off.” — Robin D.
11. “‘Just go jogging.’ Every time I saw my psychiatrist, this was all she would suggest. I get this can help for some people, but when you are borderline agoraphobic, it was not the best.” — Karen M.
12. “‘Just get over it.’ This came from my high school teacher who said my anxiety was made up. Yeah, because I wanted to be miserable and afraid of so much for years.” — Audrey Y.
13. “One bit of advice I get given is ‘you need to stop worrying.‘ That really is not a helpful piece of advice to give someone who worries all of the time. If I was able to stop I would. That is the advice that gets me more frustrated because then I think people don’t understand what it’s like to be in my situation.” — Robyn B.
14. “Back when I was undiagnosed and my social anxiety was much worse, I was working with my first job and a co-worker pulled me aside to say, ‘I used to be shy like you, but I eventually got over it! You just need to get out of your shell and stop being so quiet all the time.’” — Skyler S.
15. “‘You’ve just got to stop thinking about [whatever they believe is causing the anxiety].’ I understand their reasoning, but it’s not that easy to switch off and sometimes I don’t even know what triggered my anxiety.” — Georgie R.
16. “Try taking [name your preferred herb/Rx/food/beverage/etc.].” While the attempt to help is kind, please just assume I’ve read 92,832 articles that each told me various ‘things’ I can take to help reduce anxiety, and none of them actually work.” — Jessi W.
17. “‘Everyone gets anxious, it’s normal.’” Yeah, tell that to my panic attacks and inability to get a job.” — Rae H.
18. “‘You need a hobby,‘ is one I’ve had that is pretty ridiculous. I don’t ever choose to be in bed all day instead of out doing other things. I have hobbies; I play video games, guitar, draw, write, bake, lots of different things, but if I’m not doing these it’s not by choice. And to suggest that I ‘join a club or go to a class’ sounds like the most terrifying thing for a person with bad anxiety. Then to add, ‘Maybe you would actually make some friends.’ Yeah, thanks, mate…” — Rosie F.
19. “Lots of advice relating to diet. Go paleo, go vegan, yada yada. Yeah, I’m genetically predisposed to anxiety and depression and an abuse survivor. Never mind that I eat unprocessed foods anyway. But I’m sure giving up rice or chicken will ‘fix’ me.” — Krystal N.
20. “Things like, ‘Just relax,’ ‘It’s all in your head, everything is fine,’ and, ‘You should try ____.’ are really unhelpful. I’m obviously trying to calm down, I know it’s in my head, don’t tell me things I already know, and if what you’re suggesting I try was something that helps, then I would be doing it already.” — Matt A.
21. “‘That’s OK. Lots of people get nervous about _____.’ Also, when people talk about real everyday fears and call them anxieties. For example, someone said everyone feels anxious. Some people are anxious about making rent. Yes, it is a very difficult situation if you lose your job and you may get evicted, but that is very logical. It is different than when I just can’t make myself do something in a room full of friends and family and have no idea why it even stresses me.” — Lauren S.
22. “What they hear themselves say: ‘Try not to focus on the anxiety, distract yourself.’ What I hear them say: ‘Try not to focus on the fact that you feel as though you’re choking on air and will die at any given second because that’s what your brain has talked yourself into, just distract yourself from it.’ It’s hard when people haven’t experienced it themselves, and I believe people’s advice always comes from a good place, but when you’re in that situation and you feel as though you have lost control, it can be hard to listen to. I found that it was only when I was out the other end that I realized the people around me only had good intentions and wanted to help.” — Morgan P.
Most likely, the person talking to you about their anxiety doesn’t need advice — they need understanding.