We’ve all heard it and we’ve all said it at one point or another: “Just get over it.” Whether it’s our friends complaining about the same old drama or our family members carrying on about something we feel is insignificant, sometimes that phrase just seems to be the most fitting. Maybe not the most empathetic or warm, but the most fitting. As with anything, there is a time and a place to use this phrase and when you’re talking to someone who suffers from anxiety, the time and place is never. Why? Because it doesn’t work in regards to reducing their anxiety. If you’re reading this, it’s very likely you have someone in your life who suffers from anxiety. It’s also very likely you yourself have said this phrase, or something similar to your loved one. Before we jump into how you yourself can cope, it’s important to understand a bit more about anxiety and how it impacts your loved ones.
Anxiety is a mental health diagnosis with symptoms which can be debilitating and overwhelming for the person experiencing those symptoms. Those who suffer may experience a variety of symptoms and there is no “one size fits all” way that anxiety presents itself. Two people may have the same exact anxiety diagnosis, but experience their symptoms completely differently, which is why it can be difficult for loved ones to fully understand the diagnosis and symptoms.
People who suffer from anxiety hear phrases such as, “Just get over it”, “calm down”, or “relax” all of the time, as if those words are magically going to cure their symptoms and make them feel better instantaneously. Now, I know that the majority of the time these phrases are said in a true effort to help the person, but what ends up happening is quite the opposite. With mental health symptoms, we can’t physically see them like we may be able to see a medical health symptom. So, when we see a loved one worked up or upset, it seems logical that they can just calm down and feel better, right? Since those who don’t suffer from anxiety usually can calm themselves down easily, it’s a logical thought that your loved one can too. Think about it this way though, if your loved one was asthmatic and was having an asthma attack, saying “just get over it” or “calm down” isn’t going to help them and you’d know that. It’s the same with anxiety.
Just because we can’t always physically see anxiety doesn’t mean it’s not there.
By telling a loved one to “get over it”, you are basically telling them their symptoms don’t matter, whether that is your intent or not. What they hear is that you feel their symptoms aren’t real. What they hear is that you believe they have control and can make it stop and are choosing to feel badly in that moment. What they get out of that phrase is that you are invalidating their feelings, emotions, and symptoms. Anddddddd cue the conflict. Is there a certain level of control when it comes to managing anxiety? Absolutely. However, this is not something someone with anxiety can just magically learn and usually requires additional support through therapeutic interventions. Often times, these types of phrases are said out of anger or frustration, and the person saying it usually knows that it’s not going to actually calm their loved one down, they really just don’t know what else to say in that moment and their own frustration takes over.
For all of you loved ones of someone suffering from anxiety, your feelings are valid too.
It is incredibly difficult to support and help someone in your life who is experiencing anxiety. It’s upsetting. You feel helpless. It can interfere with relationships. It can interfere with day-to-day tasks. It requires time, patience, flexibility, and energy. It can be frustrating. It can be stressful. And you’re allowed to feel ALL OF THOSE EMOTIONS. What I am trying to highlight here is that there are more effective and helpful ways to support your loved one suffering from anxiety than simply telling them to get over it as well as more effective ways you yourself can cope with your own feelings of frustration around this.
So, what do you do? How do you make it better? How can you be a support to your loved one, while still managing your own emotions around their diagnosis!?
Below are some helpful, simple, yet effective tips:
- It’s not your job to “fix” them. You love them. You care about them. You want them to be ok, but you can’t “fix” this. You can support and encourage them along the way of their healing journey but you can’t actually “fix” it. So, stop trying. When we try to “fix” things, we end up taking on stress and frustration ourselves, which leads to stress and frustration towards our loved one. Remember, this is nothing to “fix.” Anxiety is a diagnosis, not an identity. Your loved one needs to heal and grow, not be “fixed.”
- Tell them when you don’t understand. Be honest with them if you feel as though you don’t fully understand their anxiety, their triggers, or their symptoms. It’s ok for you not to know, how are you supposed to?! But tell them that and allow them the opportunity to share with you some of their thoughts, feelings, triggers, behaviors, and emotions associated with their symptoms. Also, if they feel strong enough to share this information with you, thank them. It may seem simple to you, but for someone with anxiety this simple task alone can take so much courage to be able to do.
- Don’t say anything. Silence usually = feeling uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s the best solution. If you truly don’t know what to say to help them, say nothing. Sit with them in their unconformability (and yours!) Give them a warm smile, or a light squeeze on the arm. Just be there for them, with them. It’s better than saying something which could worsen their symptoms and potentially damage the relationship. (Spoiler alert, they aren’t always looking for advice either. Sometimes they just need to process and vent, too.)
- Find your own support. It’s important to recognize that this is an incredibly difficult role for you to be in and you’re allowed to feel frustrated. It’s also important for you to find your own support, whether it be a therapist or a friend/family member to talk to about your feelings. Bottling up our emotions never has a happy ending, so talk about it with someone you can trust. (Shameless therapy plug: While talking to a friend or family member is absolutely going to be helpful, talking to a therapist is going to be even more helpful because therapists are trained in treating anxiety. So, they are going to be able to give you even more psycho-eduction on the diagnosis, symptoms, and ways you can continue to support your loved one with their specific symptoms.)
- Find an outlet. Find something that helps you cope with your own frustration, whether it be prayer, mediation, working out, listening to music, taking part in a hobby of yours, yoga, etc. It can be anything, but make sure you are taking care of YOU, too.
- Set healthy boundaries. Just because your loved one is suffering doesn’t mean you need to, too. You’re allowed to set boundaries with them just like anyone else in your life, especially if you see their symptoms starting to impact you. This can seem uncomfortable, but the alternative is that you begin to resent them, which will negatively impact the relationship.
- Manage your expectations. If you can learn to better understand your loved ones symptoms, you can begin to better manage your expectations. Often times, loved ones of those who suffer from anxiety become frustrated because they find themselves disappointed. For example, if your loved one struggles with social interactions and you find yourselves at a party, don’t be surprised when your loved one suffering from anxiety is on edge or uncomfortable the entire night. Do you wish it could be different? Probably, yes. But, it is what it is in the moment. So, you have two choices: You can be annoyed and frustrated with them or you can manage your expectations and switch your mindset. Instead of “Ugh, here we go again..” think “Wow, I am so happy they even got into the car to come tonight.” See the difference? This will help YOU feel less frustrated and resentful towards them, as well as reduce the likelihood of you taking their symptoms personally.
Anxiety sucks. Plain and simple. But no one is perfect and we all struggle with something. Remember that it’s ok to be frustrated at times when someone you care about is going through a difficult time, but don’t let those moments of frustration begin to define your relationship. With love, support, and therapeutic interventions, these symptoms can improve, you just need to be patient in the process and take care of yourself, too.
I would LOVE to know what spoke to you today and encourage you to comment below and share with me!
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