Do you know what anxiety is? Or what it might feel like to have it?
Even if you answered no, it’s still important for us to educate ourselves and raise awareness about anxiety and other mental illnesses. And if you have someone in your life who you think might be struggling with feelings of anxiety, then it would do you a lot of good to learn more about what it’s like to live with anxiety so you can help eliminate the stigma against it and be there for them in the way that they need.
With that said, here are 8 things people with anxiety want you to know:
1. Anxiety is real, even if you can’t see it.
One of the worst things you can do to someone with anxiety (or any other kind of mental health concern, really) is to invalidate their feelings by saying their “anxiety is a choice” or that it’s “all in their head.” Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make their struggle with mental illness any less real (Antony & Rowa, 2005).
2. Anxiety affects a lot of people all over the world.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2020), roughly 31% of those aged 18 years old and above have or will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. That means over 40 million adults in the United States alone suffer from anxiety every year. That makes anxiety one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in the world, affecting people of all ages, race, genders, and backgrounds.
3. I wish I could just stop, but it’s complicated.
Next time you ask your friend to just “snap out of it”, “relax”, and “get a grip” on their anxiety, think back to a time when you got sick or seriously injured. Could you just tell your body to get over the cold or stop being allergic to something? To heal your bones or cure your infection with sheer power of will? No, right? Because if only you could, then life would be so much easier for you. Well, mental illness is the exact same way! Living with anxiety is far from a walk in the park, and if only we could just stop having it, then we would, but…
4. Anxiety affects the mind and the body.
Sometimes our anxious thoughts lead to experiencing physical symptoms like sweaty palms, trembling, muscle tension, shortness of breath, and a pounding heart (McLeod, Hoehn-Saric, & Stefan, 1986). But other times, it can be the other way around. Bottom line is, anxiety is never “just in your head,” and trying to rationalize it — as kind as your intentions might be when you tell someone “There’s no need to be nervous!” — tends to make them feel worse, not better.
5. My anxiety has nothing to do with you or our relationship.
One of the reasons why it’s so difficult for people with mental illness to have healthy, thriving, long-term relationships (be it platonic or romantic) is because most people tend to have this very problematic idea that if you love someone enough, you can make their mental illness go away. That they can be well for you or “change for the better” because of how much they love you and how much you love them. But it just doesn’t work that way, we’re afraid. Because their anxiety has nothing to do with you or their relationship with you. And just because they feel anxious around you sometimes doesn’t mean they love you any less or don’t cherish your time together.
6. Random things can be triggering for me.
Anxiety can be scary, especially when we don’t understand the exact nature of why and when it happens. A lot of people suffering from anxiety are often triggered by many different things. Oftentimes, it can be uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations — such as public speaking or having fights with friends — but it can also be brought about by the most random, unrelated things (Raghunathan, Pham, & Corfman, 2006).
7. It’s not your job to fix us.
When a friend or family member confides in you about their struggles with anxiety, they’re doing it because they trust you and feel safe being vulnerable around you. They’re not asking you to fix them or make their problems go away, so don’t make the mistake of thinking so. Just be there for them like a good friend would, and any support or understanding you can show will surely go a long way in helping them manage their anxieties.
8. We are more than our anxiety.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, people with anxiety want you to know that they are more than their struggles with mental illness. They don’t let their anxiety define them or their life, so you shouldn’t either. And just because someone struggles with anxiety doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy themselves anymore, reach their full potential, or have meaningful relationships with others. Anxiety disorders are also one of the most highly treatable mental illnesses in the world (Rapee, Schniering, & Hudson,2009), so there’s always hope that things will get better.
So, do you agree with any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Remember, if you or anyone you know is struggling with anxiety or any other serious mental health concern, please do not hesitate to reach out to a mental healthcare professional today and seek help.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2020). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
- McLeod, D. R., Hoehn-Saric, R., & Stefan, R. L. (1986). Somatic symptoms of anxiety: Comparison of self-report and physiological measures. Biological psychiatry, 21(3), 301-310.
- Raghunathan, R., Pham, M. T., & Corfman, K. P. (2006). Informational properties of anxiety and sadness, and displaced coping. Journal of Consumer Research, 32(4), 596-601.
- Antony, M. M., & Rowa, K. (2005). Evidence-based assessment of anxiety disorders in adults. Psychological assessment, 17(3), 256.
- Rapee, R. M., Schniering, C. A., & Hudson, J. L. (2009). Anxiety disorders during childhood and adolescence: Origins and treatment. Annual review of clinical psychology, 5, 311-341.