What are nay sayers? They are the people in your life, maybe your friends, maybe your co-workers, maybe your family, that just don’t believe in “anxiety” as a real disorder. When you explain how you feel, the physical symptoms of nausea or of not being able to breathe and the paralyzing emotional fear, they just don’t understand. “Everyone feels nervous sometime, you just learn to deal with it,” or “I get nervous too, but I don’t take medication,” may be common statements you hear. Comments such as this can make you feel more alone and more isolated. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding and compassion can increase your anxiety, increase your fear of being with other people and cause you to isolate yourself even more.
Anxiety disorder, along with other types of mental illness still carries with it a certain stigma. It can be hard to discuss, even with those that you are close to. For this reason, many people suffer in silence. They may be afraid to talk with friends, neighbors, or relatives for fear of being ridiculed. In some cases, friends will avoid you, not knowing what to say or what to do, so not saying anything is easier.
Hiding out, however, is not the answer. Keeping secrets from family and friends, being ashamed and living in fear of losing your job can contribute to anxiety. Talking about your mental illness, whether it be anxiety, depression or another disorder, is difficult. Talking and asking for support can help in the healing process.
Before letting others know about your anxiety, talk with a trusted person, this may be your spouse, your therapist or a close friend. Tell your story and watch how this person reacts to different aspects of the story. This can help you to judge which parts you may want to share with others and which parts should remain between you and your therapist or spouse.
Begin by choosing who you want to share details with. Before telling your own personal story, you may want to make general comments about other people, even those in the news or celebrities, that have spoken out about living with a mental illness. The person you are speaking with may make compassionate comments or they may indicate a total lack of understanding. By listening to their reaction, you can decide whether you would like to share details of your own story with them.
When explaining how you feel and offering details of your life, find ways to create a positive look at your anxiety. In other words, don’t use this conversation as a way to elicit sympathy. Helping to educate someone about anxiety is best done at a time when you may be feeling not so anxious, rather than talking in the middle of an anxiety attack or when you are feeling down about your illness. The point of sharing is to help someone understand your feelings and to educate him or her on what it is like to live with anxiety. The point should not be to have someone feel sorry for you or to have someone feel you are in a crisis.
You may be quite surprised and learn that other people in your life are going through some of the same experiences as you and may have been feeling isolated as well. Opening up to others may provide you with a network of those that can support you in times of high anxiety as well as offering you the opportunity to provide support to others in need.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.