1. "It's all in your head." When you're feeling those scary anxiety symptoms, like increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and shakiness, hearing that someone actually thinks you have the ability to just stop it all can just make you feel more anxious. "Anxiety can actually be a really debilitating condition that no one should have to suffer with," says Keeley Teemsma, MA, MSW, LCSW. "Many people assume that anxiety is simply just a lot of worrying that can be switched off, when actually it can't." If someone close to you is suffering, the only advice you should really be giving is for them to get a diagnostic opinion from a qualified mental health professional.
2. "Just calm down." Nope, not helpful. Telling someone to calm down just minimizes and delegitimizes what they are going through. "Instead, just be supportive," says Keeley. "Don't offer advice, just listen to what the other person has to say."
3. "It's not that big a deal." Sure, it might not be a big deal for you, but anxiety is a very big deal when you're the one experiencing it. "This statement is an example of an opinion, and sharing this could really hurt someone," adds Keeley.
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4. "Your life isn't that difficult." It's important to remember that all experiences are subjective and relative. "Everyone has different levels of distress tolerance, and an event that causes one person severe anxiety may only minimally affect someone else," adds Keeley. And when a person with anxiety hears that another person is judging them, it can make the anxiety symptoms a lot worse.
5. "Just stop stressing." "This statement doesn't offer any type of potential solution, certainly doesn't help someone cope, and could actually be quite hurtful," says Keeley. Avoid using statements that could come off as judgmental and instead be supportive; make it clear to your friend that you are there for them if they need to talk."
6. "Have you tried yoga?" While people who suffer from anxiety are generally totally sick of hearing that they should take up yoga (or another popular exercise), yoga practice can have mental health benefits. It's all about when you say it. In the middle of someone having a panic attack is not the time. "When the other person is calm and collected, you could say something like 'I was really worried about you the other day when I saw you have that panic attack. I've heard how difficult living with anxiety can be and just wanted to offer that I've read about on the benefits of yoga in terms of coping,'" Keeley explains.
7. "Can't you just take a pill?" Some people do take medicine to manage their anxiety, and some try other ways, like breathing exercises or physical exercise. Don't minimize what someone is feeling by thinking a pill can "fix" them. Instead, ask the person how you can help them cope, and above all, listen.