10 Things NOT to Say
I’ve touched on this a bit, but I'm going to again, this time in a handy-dandy list! Here’s 10 things not to say to someone with social anxiety (in no particular order).
1. “Just don’t be anxious.”
Oh gee, I’m cured. This statement is completely worthless and tells me that you don’t think my disorder is real. If I could choose not to be anxious, I would. Why would I ever choose to be anxious?
2. “Have you tried praying about it?”
Yes, I have prayed about it. But prayer does not equal a cure. I don’t pray for God to “heal” my anxiety, I pray he’ll give me the strength and courage to face it, and an understanding on how to use it to help others.
If you want to pray for/with me, that’s another story. Try “can I pray for/with you?” For me, the answer is always yes. It shows me that you care and want to help.
3. “I’m shy too.”
This one makes me want to scream. It’s. Not. The. Same. Thing. You can probably relate to some of the things I feel, but don’t downplay my feelings. This statement implies that social anxiety is a personality trait, not a diagnosable disorder.
4. “Be more outgoing.”
This is an outcome, not a solution. When I’m less anxious, I’m more outgoing. But being outgoing initially causes anxiety. Why would triggering my anxiety make it better?
5. “It’s not worth worrying about.”
Sigh. I know. I tell myself this every time I have an anxious thought. Telling me this doesn’t make the thought go away, it just makes me think you don’t care or don’t have time for me.
6. “Have you tried [insert this week's trending relaxation technique]?”
This one is tricky, because people mean well. The key word here is “trending.” I don’t live under a rock, so I’ve heard of journaling, yoga, and meditation. I don’t find any of any of them helpful (yes, even journaling). However, if you have a specific technique I likely haven’t heard of, feel free to tell me.
Example: someone told me they found showering in the dark helpful. I haven’t tried it, because I have an irrational fear of bugs crawling out of the drain, but I appreciated the suggestion, because it was new. It worked for them and showed me that they not only cared and understood, but really were trying to help and not spewing generic advice.
Someone else said they count backwards from 100 by threes, because it requires thought and takes attention away from the anxiety. I use it, I like it, that person was helpful.
I’m not saying you can’t give advice, but think it through. If it’s obvious, don’t say it, no matter how much it worked for you or your best friend or your third cousin.
7. “It’s all in your head.”
My mental illness is literally in my head. It’s also real, the same way a broken wrist is all in your
arm. Just because my anxiety is composed mainly of my thoughts does not mean I made it up.
8. “It could be worse.”
True, I could be starving in Africa or dying of cancer. But it could also be better. I could be able to introduce myself to strangers without my hands shaking. Every situation “could be worse,” that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist or have a major impact on my day-to-day life.
9. “I’m sorry.”
Context is key here. If you’re apologizing for something you did that triggered my anxiety, we’re all good. Apology accepted and thank you for being so wonderful and polite.
If you’re apologizing for me having anxiety, that’s kinda weird. It’s not your fault that I have social anxiety and PLEASE don’t feel bad for me. You can say something like “that must be hard,” which shows genuine emotion. Apologizing is incredibly impersonal and often times an excuse to change the subject.
10. Rolling your eyes.
Okay, I’m cheating. This isn’t a verbal quote, but it’s body language and that’s a form of talking. If I tell you I have anxiety and you roll your eyes, I might cry. This tells me you think I’m making excuses, social anxiety is fake, or you don’t have time to deal with me. Even if you’re thinking that, keep it inside.
In general, don’t act like you know more about a disorder than the person who lives with it every day. Remember that I’m already terrified you’ll judge me and by telling you I have social anxiety, I’m putting myself in a vulnerable position. Be gentle. Please.