I am no stranger to anxiety. I have had thoughts so crippling and debilitating that I would cry until I felt physically sick. I have had panic attacks so severe that I would have to pull over and wait ten minutes until I could resume normal breathing and for the color to return to my knuckles clenched onto the steering wheel. Even though I have not experienced the worst of this illness for over two years, it’s still not an easy thing for me to write about, and it’s definitely not an easy condition to live with. However, as many of my friends and loved ones have told me, it can be really difficult finding the right things to say to a loved one who is struggling with anxiety. The line can blur from helpful to harmful very quickly, which I can definitely understand and relate to.
Here are five phrases that have helped me through my own healing process, and I hope they can shed some light to others going through the same difficulty:
1. “You are strong.”
I wish I could shout this from the rooftops to every person with anxiety out in the world, because it is so true. Most people I have ever known with anxiety, myself included, continue to go to school or work even though those are the direct sources of their anxiety. However, they continue to tackle those responsibilities which require a unique form of strength and resiliency. I often heard during my own experience with anxiety “Don’t worry, things will get easier.” While I definitely can appreciate this sentiment, I didn’t want things to become easier… I wanted to become stronger, so hearing validation about strength helped me immensely.
2.“You have done enough for tonight.”
My family was amazing with this as I was recovering. I would often work on school work until well past midnight and still feel that I was not contributing enough. That is when my family would swoop in with the gentle reminders to get some sleep and assure me that I was in fact, doing more than enough. My father has the ultimate “work hard, no excuses” attitude, so when I heard him telling me I was overworking myself; I knew it had to be true. Anxiety makes you feel like you never are doing enough, so hearing that small bit of affirmation has the power to allow a loved one to take off some pressure, even if it is only for a night.
3. “What can I do to help?”
Anxiety is a huge personal burden. It is hard for anyone to ask for help, but when you have anxiety asking for help feels a lot like failure. It feels like you are giving your anxious mind the upper hand…but it is one of the first steps to recovery. My best friend was awesome with this because she would often ask what she could do to help me get through some of the roughest patches of my life, as opposed to waiting for me to ask for help directly. She literally made an effort to see me every single day after an incredibly stressful internship and would be quick to allow me the twenty-minute crying session I needed, while then addressing the issue at hand. Although I may have had an anxiety riddled morning, I knew she would do whatever she could to help me power through my afternoon with laughter and a helping hand. I will forever be grateful for that.
4. “I’m so happy to see you.”
As many people experiencing this will tell you, anxiety has a way of creeping into every area of your life. This was definitely the case for me, because even though most of my anxiety was school related, as my anxiety got worse, it became more and more generalized. This left me feeling alone not only in aspects of school, but within my closest friendships and relationships as well. Even if a loved one you know who has anxiety may not say it…they may be feeling like they are a bad friend, or bringing you down (which was my biggest fear). Anxiety can wreak havoc on friendships and intimate relationships, so hearing this one sentence of positively truly has the power to make someone going through the thick of anxiety feel a little more secure and confident within friendships.
5. “You are brave.”
As I once heard from a woman much wiser than I am, “Anxiety is your body preparing to be courageous.” I didn’t realize it then, but this quote would soon change my life because of the utmost truth it holds. We get butterflies in our stomachs before going on roller coasters because it requires bravery. We are nervous prior to presenting speeches during school because it takes a lot of courage to share your voice in front of your peers. Remind your loved ones that they are brave and courageous, as this one small mind shift can make a HUGE impact, and in some cases, may be the only comment your friend or family member needs to hear.
The reality of anxiety:
The struggle does not seem to be going anywhere; statistics continue to show that college-aged female students (18-24) have some of the highest rates of anxiety disorders. However, it is important to remember that small steps lead to big strides, and these five phrases can help your friend or family member achieve a healthier, and ultimately happier, state of mind.
This post is dedicated to the humbling amount of people who loved me, or tried to love me, during my worst as well as to all the brave young women struggling with this condition.
You are brave, you are strong, and you will always be enough.
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