How to Explain Anxiety to Other People
”I feel so guilty. I don’t want to be a burden on my friends and family’‘ a recent client explained to me.
What I hear time and time again from anxious clients is that they often have a hard time explaining their anxiety to other people, let alone asking for support.
Anxiety is one of those things which, for someone who’s never experienced it, is hard to understand or imagine. If you’re like me, you’ve been told to ‘snap out of it’, or ‘stop worrying’. Or my personal (least) fave, ‘just chill out!’
One problem with mental issues is that they can’t be seen. It’s not like having a broken leg where it’s obvious to see that something’s wrong. This is one reason why explaining anxiety to people is so important.
When we look around at our friends and colleagues, it might be impossible to tell that over 18% will suffer with anxiety.
Our friends or loved ones might notice us being withdrawn or declining social events without really knowing whats going on with us. When I was socially anxious, a frustrating result was that people would think I was cold or rude because I felt too shy to join in or put myself out there.
There’s also still unfortunately a stigma around anxiety (although I think this is getting less and less). It’s something we don’t always want to admit to, we don’t want to label ourselves for fear it’ll make things more ‘official’ and this sadly means that only about 1/3 of us get any treatment for it.
I think it’s always better to speak to the people close to you rather than bottling things up and suffering alone. The truth is that the people that love you, want to support and understand you. Here are some tips on how to explain anxiety to other people.
Explain the anxiety to them by telling them about the thoughts and feelings you have and why it makes you behave the way you do. This can help them to understand if you’re acting differently than normal or why you’re not able to join in with certain things.
Let them know how they can help you. Sometimes people (especially men, who tend to be more solution focused) will want to give you advice and strategies. These things have their place, of course. However, you may feel like you just need someone to listen or to give you a hug and just be there. Be clear about what they can do to support you.
Explaining the physical sensations that you get; for example ‘Being in social situations makes my heart pound and my palms sweat’ – this could be a good way of helping people to understand.
It might make it easier for them to understand if you explain in it a way that they can relate to. For example, if your friend has experienced fear or nervousness about a big presentation they’re giving (many people will experience nervousness over this) you could explain that for you, you feel nervous and fearful about everyday things.
Let them know what’s going on in your brain when you’re anxious. Explain that often the ‘fight or flight’ response is kicking in, creating a lot of adrenaline and making you feel as though a non-threatening situation is in fact, a life or death one.
Remember that it’s not your fault that you’re anxious so please try to be kind to yourself. It’s really important to ask for help and get treatment. Speak to your GP, seek out a therapist or look into my online programme.