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Two Words You Should Never Say to Someone with Anxiety

"Calm Down"

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

The two most useless words in the English language to someone with anxiety. 

"Calm down"

Someone says. We can't see them through the floods of tears, and we're ashamed to be crying at work/ in the street/ in front of them. 

Our hammering heartbeats and heads are making it really hard to speak and we are SO dizzy. We can't remember how we got here; we've got SO much to do and this is wasted time, but that one tiny little thing that just happened was the last straw.

"Calm down." they say, again.

We look down at our hands, which are trembling. They're in pieces, because we've bitten half of one nail off, picked at the skin and torn it to shreds in the last two minutes, and the other is covered in scribbled biro, the remnants of ALL the things we have had to remember today. We hide them; ashamed. 

"Why are you so upset again?"

Maybe it's not worth getting upset about. To them. It must be a lovely thing, to be able to separate worry and emotion. To be able to hold those thoughts and fears in, and not to show a thing. How nice - to have that armour. 

"I'm sorry", we say, because we really are inconvenient at times, and it must be such a burden to have to watch someone cry over 'nothing'. We are so humiliated. The hammering in our chests does not stop, and we are frazzled like the sputtering end of a fuse, but we continue about our day, because to be such a nuisance to someone causes more grief and more worry. We will re-live this situation hours later, in bed, staring at the ceiling, and re-playing what we could have said or done better, and what you think of us.

Physically, we are always shattered. It's all-consuming, to have to constantly analyse and re-think our every action and every word we say. Or someone else's actions. Or someone else's words. Or that incident when you bumped into someone nine weeks ago on a Thursday and they looked a bit irritated, so today we are going to re-live that. Just as we thought we were getting 'better', and had a hold on things finally, there's something else which keeps us up at night, and will not leave our dreams. 

"Calm down" you say, and think that you are helping.

We nod, and shrug it off, and say "Thanks, I'm ok now."

You didn't help. You'll never understand until you've spent your days off with knees hugging your chest and the curtains all closed and the phone on silent and the lights all low and you are able to pull the covers over your head and finally, finally, are able to let go for a little while. Your safe place. Your haven. Your home. 

And then someone knocks at the door; it's someone selling something, but even if it's your best friend, you don't care, because you just can't come out of your cocoon today. Not today. Not for anyone.

Just one little bit of quiet so we can think. That's all we want. 

We've tried writing lists. Making so many lists. But our mind is a terrorist; a branch of thoughts, growing and circling and spiraling until the initial point of the list is lost, buried and strangled by the leaves which are our every possible option. Imagine that branch, only the branch is attached to a gigantic tree of thoughts, which never go away, and will only grow more. Does your bulging to-do list of five manageable things look alarming to you now?

Be kind. Instead of asking "what's wrong?" ask how you can help. Just sit with us. Distract us until we feel a little better, and then make a plan with us. We like planning. Find us some alternatives when we can't think and our mind is too busy. Don't tell us that we're being stupid. Don't tell us that we aren't making sense, or that we're wrong. Just let us let it out. A good cuppa never goes amiss; but remember that many of us just can't handle caffeine. Give us a cuddle if that's ok. Studies show that weighted blankets and backpacks help many people, so a good squeeze isn't going to hurt. Just remember that when our minds finally quieten, we're going to need some very quiet time to recover, and we might take a while to feel like us again. 

For those of us with high-functioning anxiety, we can sometimes hold this in until we burst through our front door at night, and people will say "they look fine, there's nothing wrong with them, they're just stressed." We think it's easier for people to believe that's true, and that we are just 'sensitive' and 'emotional' people who 'can't handle it'.

 For those of us with anxiety and depression, the lows that can follow are crippling and leave us out of action for several days at a time. So let us breathe if we don't have an excuse to come out this weekend, or we're always 'busy'. We're busy healing. 

For anyone who has been affected by mental health issues, please talk to someone. Go to your doctor and ask about free counseling. Ask how they can help you. Don't struggle alone. And for those who didn't know how to help...now you might have a small clue. 

Two words which you should ALWAYS say to someone with anxiety: 

"Just breathe. "


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