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To the People Who Laugh at My Anxiety

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To the people who laugh at my anxiety,

My generalized anxiety disorder tends to leave my stomach constantly feeling as if I’m on a roller coaster. It also leaves me with more specific anxieties. Some of these are surrounding things that many people simply may not like, but for me, it’s more than that. Something that others just “don’t like” can lead to a breakdown or panic attack when I’m faced with it.

I know you may think my concerns are unnecessary and over-the-top. Believe me, I do, too. But I need you to stop telling me that. What starts off as manageable anxiety can suddenly become magnified when you laugh or point out how “irrational” it is. I know nothing bad is going to happen if I call the pizza place to make an order. But the moment you point that out, my anxiety can shift. Now, it’s not just the phone call. That fear is still there, but on top of it is the feeling that you’re mocking me or judging me or are disappointed in me, or that you are feeling some sort of negative emotion directed towards me. My anxiety then becomes person-based instead of situation-based, and while I can usually exercise control over situations, I can’t exercise control over people, and my anxiety surrounding your perception of me is much worse than my anxiety over the phone call.

This extends beyond phone calls. Anytime you joke about how tightly I’m holding onto the handle in the car or “hitting the brakes” on the passenger side, I feel worse. Anytime you poke fun at me for wanting to fix every single minor detail in a project, my anxiety skyrockets. I know it might seem like pointing out how “unreasonable” I’m being could shock me out of it. I know you’re probably hoping I’ll be able to laugh at myself in that moment and that will help me. But right then, my anxious situation is escalating, and you’re a bystander who’s egging it on instead of working to defuse it.

You’re trying to help me, and I get that. Or maybe you’re not, and you’re actually just annoyed with me (same). Whatever the circumstance may be, please know the best thing you can do to help me is to either demonstrate understanding or not react at all. If I’m having trouble calling the pizza place, tell me if I can’t do it, it’s OK, and you’ll call this time. There’s always next time. If you see me in the car, eyes closed, hand gripping something, feet on my imaginary brakes, please don’t comment. I’m doing my best to stay calm in a situation that unsettles me, and I’m trying to get to a point where I don’t have to be doing that.

I constantly have to hype myself up in order to do things that might be considered simple tasks, and I need you to understand that overcoming my anxieties is not as simple as being talked out of them. I don’t need you or me to believe my fears are rational, but I need you to treat me as if they are and help me work through them instead of trying to get me to ignore them. It may seem counterproductive, but the best way to help me overcome my fears is to let me have them and work through them at my own pace with a little bit of help from you.



Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: September 21, 2016
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