How to Explain Anxiety
Acknowledge Anxiety: Before you can explain anxiety to someone you first need to acknowledge that you have it. The more we try to ignore anxiety or shove it away, the more it seems to control us. Picture yourself with a filled-to-the-brim closet . . . instead of organizing the closet or removing some of the contents, you continue to add more and more items to the shelves. Soon, you’ve guessed it, you open the door and everything ends up spilling out, taking more space in your life than you ever intended. Anxiety likes to lie to us. It tells us that no one will understand, no one feels the same, or that it will always have a hold over you. Anxiety creates a long list of negative thoughts that keep filling our head. If we don’t take time to remove those thoughts, or re-organize those thoughts, it ends up like the above closet scenario, taking up too much negative space in our life. If we can learn how to change those negative thoughts, then eventually it will change how we act. Acknowledging our feelings is the first step to give us the freedom we need to learn important tools that will help us manage anxiety.
Tell Someone you have anxiety:List your anxiety symptoms: Explaining anxiety to someone who does not have anxiety or doesn’t understand anxiety can be challenging. You may need to educate the person on not only what symptoms anxiety has, but how they impact your daily life as well. We’ve included a few symptoms in the list below, but keep in mind that anxiety takes on different forms for each person, so your symptoms may be different than what we’ve included in this list:
- Feeling Nervous or Restless: Feeling nervous or restless even in times when things are stable.
- Difficulty Sleeping: Lying in bed for hours without being able to fall asleep.
- Feeling Tired/Drained: Feeling tired or drained constantly, despite having a full night’s sleep.
- More negative thoughts: Having more negative thoughts often results in bad feelings and/or doing less positive activities.
- Avoiding Anxiety Inducing Situations: Knowing that certain situations cause anxiety can lead to avoiding those situations. This can be avoiding social situations or trying to avoid major life decisions.
- Less fun: You stop doing activities that used to bring you enjoyment.
Communicate anxiety in everyday language:Try to communicate your feelings in simple everyday language to help them understand. Using technical words or medical terminology will complicate your message.
Be Confident and Direct when speaking about anxiety:Remain confident and be direct when speaking, don’t be offended if the person does not understand or agree with you. Common misconceptions from someone who doesn’t understand anxiety include statements such as: “anxiety will eventually go away”, everyone gets anxious”, “stop worrying”, “you are just introverted”, or “you will grow out of it.” Be prepared for these statements, but don’t try to argue or let the conversation become heated . . . find someone who may be more empathetic and helpful to this situation. If they are not willing to help, find someone who will.
Give specifics of how anxiety impacts your daily life:Explain what anxiety does to you. It’s easier to have someone feel for what you are going through if they have a true picture of how anxiety affects you. Include specific details about how it impacts your daily life. Include statements such as:
- I am feeling nervous and as a result I have trouble focusing or completing simple tasks. This has led me to have a backlog of things not getting completed.
- I have had difficulty sleeping and that has led me to constantly feel tired. I am having trouble focusing in school. As a result, I have been late for school or work.
- Sometimes I become so anxious that I start to breathe rapidly which has caused me to avoid events that I used to enjoy. I am having trouble making friends because I am avoiding social situations.
Tell them what they can do to help you with your anxiety:Let them know how they can help. Don’t assume that the person you’re telling will automatically know how to help you. They are not a mind reader . . . they need specific examples of what will help. Tell them to:
- Look for warning signs of anxiety: If you are aware of certain warning signs that your anxiety is reaching a dangerous level, explain what they are so that they can help you before it becomes out of control.
- Be patient: Explain to someone that you might need more time than usual to complete tasks or to engage in a situation.
- Be supportive: Some people are better than others at displaying support. While this does not mean they are not supportive, they may show it in ways other than you had hoped for. Give specific examples of what they can do that will be meaningful to you.
- Learn About Anxiety: Anxiety is often misunderstood unless you are experiencing it first-hand. Having those in your life learn more about anxiety and its impact will allow them to be more empathetic and supportive.
- Communicate: Communication is important to dealing with anxiety. Dedicate one on one time where you can explain how you are feeling without fear of being seen in a negative light.