The thing about anxiety is it affects people in different ways. Something one person finds easy, another may find impossible. You might think someone seems confident, but in fact, they are suffering behind the scenes. Because of this, you might end up triggering someone with anxiety without realising. Some of the sentences listed below are a few of the things that have been said that have affected me negatively, although the people who said them probably didn’t realise, perhaps they even thought they were being kind. I’m not a psychologist and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to mental health, but avoiding saying these things might be a good place to start.
“You’re actually alright when you’re drunk.”
You might just think it’s just a throwaway remark, maybe even a compliment, but there are so many levels to this that a brain with anxiety will find. The obvious being that they will think people only like them when they’re drunk, so they need to have a drink to be able to spend time with people. This could lead to a very serious alcohol dependency, as people with mental health issues are far more likely to develop substance abuse problems. If and when they stop drinking, they might have a tough time trying to work out who they really are without the alcohol, which in the worst case could lead to increased anxiety, as they are overthinking everything they say and do. In my opinion, you should just avoid saying this sentence to anyone, even if you think their mental health is fine.
“This isn’t as big of a deal as you think.”
This is something that whether it is said explicitly or simply implied, can be very damaging to someone with anxiety. It makes it seem like their feelings aren’t valid, and that they aren’t normal for feeling that way. What is a big deal to them might not be a big deal to you, and by saying that it will just leave them feeling guilty for complaining. The thing about anxiety is it’s irrational; as much as people know logically they are in no danger, anxiety will make them think they are. Understand that people all feel things differently, and be kind if someone opens up about their anxiety to you.
“If you’re going to hang out with us, you’re going to have to start speaking.”
I remember when someone said this to me like it was yesterday, because at the time it felt like the world was crumbling around me. I was hanging out with a group of people, and although I was quiet, I thought they had accepted me. I always think people are talking about me behind my back, but for once I had convinced myself that I was just being paranoid. However, my worst fears were confirmed when a spokesperson for the group said that they had had a conversation about me, and they didn’t want me there if I wasn’t going to speak. I had to fight like crazy not to burst into tears right there and then, because the thought that people didn’t like me, and worse were talking about it was just too much to handle. I started to question everything, maybe all those times I thought I was being paranoid I actually wasn’t? Maybe all those people who I thought didn’t mind me hated me too? It had me questioning my personality too, why was I so quiet? Why couldn’t I just be normal like everyone else?
Perhaps they thought it would help, and they did just want to get to know me better, but the way they went about it couldn’t have been worse for me personally. If you do want a person with anxiety to come out of their shell, confronting the problem head-on probably won’t work, it’ll just make the person start spiralling and questioning themselves. Try to include them more in conversations by asking them questions directly (but naturally), rather than just to the group in general, as they might just wait for someone else to answer the question if they can. You could also try to have more one-on-one conversations with them, as speaking in front of a group of people might be overwhelming, but to just one other person might be ok, and might help them to feel more confident when they are with the whole group. Finally, don’t give up on your quiet friends, they can’t help being the way they are, and you could make a big difference in their lives just by being there.