Many people with anxiety suffer in silence. They worry that friends and relatives will not understand, will judge or ridicule them. Instead of trying to explain, they shy away, withdrawal, or avoid situations where they don't feel support and understanding.
The following are seven things anxiety sufferers would like their family and friends to know:
1. Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Mental illness is often called the "hidden" disability because you can't see it, and for those who have never had to deal with the debilitating effects, it is hard to understand. Family and friends may understand getting nervous before giving a speech but can't understand that ordering in a restaurant brings so much fear you would rather never go out to eat. But anxiety, although in our thoughts, is also considered to be caused, at least in part, by a chemical imbalance in our brains. It is a "real" disorder and the symptoms can be debilitating.
2. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I cannot do the things you can do.
When you tell me to "go and talk to that person" or "just get over it and do it," I feel guilty, ashamed, and embarrassed that I cannot do it. Please don't make it worse by humiliating me by insisting that my fears are baseless.
3. I don't like feeling this way.
I would like to be able to enjoy life, have a conversation with my friends, eat in a restaurant, take an elevator, or go out of the house without feeling anxious. Being consumed with anxiety is not a pleasant experience. I don't feel this way because I want to. I feel this way because sometimes my anxiety is hard to control.
4. I don't use anxiety as an excuse.
I am not lazy and say that I am anxious to get out of doing any work, contributing to conversations, or missing the party you want me to attend. I would really like to do these things, but sometimes my anxiety makes me feel paralyzed and unable to do things you take for granted. Anxiety is not an excuse. Believe me, I would rather be able to attend a party and enjoy myself than sit home feeling like a failure.
5. Stress can make my anxiety much worse.
Please don't put me on the spot, call attention to me, or ask for my opinion. When I am under a lot of stress or feeling overwhelmed, my anxiety level increases. Sometimes I have to remove myself from the situation, even if that seems rude or uncaring. Sometimes it helps to take a few minutes to be by myself, to take some deep breaths and calm down. At other times, I may need to leave because I am having trouble controlling my feelings of anxiety. I am not trying to be rude, but my fears are often overwhelming.
6. I know many of my fears are irrational.
You don't need to remind me that it is silly to be scared to get on an elevator or spout statistics about how safe air travel is. I know all this. I know that I shouldn't worry about ordering in a restaurant or talking to a store clerk. Even so, I do. Often my anxiety begins long before a situation occurs and doesn't go away until long after. Please don't belittle me for these fears. Instead, be supportive.
7. It's okay if you don't know what to do.
Sometimes when anxiety hits I don't remember what to do, so I understand that you aren't sure how to be supportive. When that happens, ask me how you can help. Often, a supportive statement, such as "I am here," "Let's do this together," or "I will stay right here with you in case you need anything," helps to calm me down.