It’s too easy to feel completely alone when I struggle with anxiety.
The fact is, we’re not alone, and openly communicating with those who we are closest too can actually make a big difference in our lives.
But it’s hard because sometimes we feel like we’re being a burden. We’re afraid to go public with our chronic anxiety. Sometimes I feel like I’m just being a crazy person, and that it’s 100% on me to deal with how I feel.
I often feel like my anxiety is a problem that only I can fix.
Anxiety isn’t something that you have to deal with by yourself, though. And it’s best not to.
Communication Leads To Compassion, Understanding, & Less Misery
People who don’t suffer from chronic anxiety do not completely understand what it’s like to fight with constant worry, or automatic worse-case-scenario thoughts, or the physical symptoms that anxiety can manifest as.
They might not understand that anxiety (or exhaustion from anxiety) is behind your bad mood. They might think that your desire to be left alone, or your irritability, means that you have a problem with them.
Friends and family might read your exhaustion as pulling away, or laziness.
Talking about your anxiety to family and friends can do two things:
First, it means that you don’t have to bear this burden in isolation. If you are going to get better, you need a supportive community around you. You need people who care about you, and who can help you when times are tough.
Secondly, sharing your experience with anxiety can be eye-opening to family and friends who do not share this experience.
Plus, I guarantee that you probably already know at least one person who also struggles with chronic anxiety. The latest statistics is that 1 in 6 Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder of some type at any given time. Globally, that average is 1 in 13.
If you know more than six people, you probably know somebody who can relate to your experience.
Anything that helps you feel less alone is comforting.
7 Tips For Talking About Your Anxiety
Talking about your personal struggles with anxiety can be hard. You might feel embarrassed, or that you are professing a weakness.
I think you’ll find that most people who are truly your friend will be understanding, compassionate, and want to support you.
Here are a few tips for talking with others about your anxiety.
1) Never be ashamed to talk about your anxiety.
While there is a “mental health stigma”, anxiety is such a common problem (1 in 6 Americans struggle with this), so you probably know at least one person who shares your struggle (even if they haven’t “come out” yet).
As someone who struggles with anxiety and relentless worry, I’m afraid that people will think I’m weak, or crazy, or that my perspectives are so skewed and out of whack that they won’t take me serious.
But a lot of that is just my own anxiety. If you are in a legitimately anxious situation, people will understand. If you are just suffering the effects of an over-anxious mind (ie: worrying about a catastrophe that is unlikely to unfold in your life), I think both you and them will know.
You will need to figure out what it is you need from your closest confidants when your anxiety is bad, and let them know.
2) Anxiety is confusing, so make your feelings/struggle relatable.
As I’ve said, people who do not have chronic anxiety do not fully understand what it’s like to live with it. Everybody gets anxious from time to time, but it’s not quite the same thing as having an anxiety disorder.
When talking about your anxiety, try to explain it in simple terms. Let them know how it feels to wake up in the morning with a sense of impending disaster hanging over your head. Talk about the way anxiety makes you feel – both emotionally and physically.
I’ve told Tracy that sometimes anxiety makes me feel like I’m wearing a lead coat, or that I feel a sensation in my chest that something horrible is going to happen, even though I know in my mind that everything is fine. And I tell her that it frustrates me, too.
3) People will want to help, but don’t let your partner, family, and friends play therapist.
Your partner, family, or friends might try to help you rationalize your anxious thoughts. They might try to offer solutions, or toss out suggestions for how to “cure” your anxiety.
While they mean well, only a licensed therapist has the training to help you overcome your anxiety, and work through your thought patterns.
So don’t rely on close friends, or your partner for therapy. But you can ask them for support.
We all want or need different things when we share our troubles. Some of us just want to talk through our thoughts, and have the other person listen.
You may need a pep talk in certain situations, while in others, you just need to share how you’re feeling so that you can process your emotions without someone else telling you what you should think, or feel, or do.
Some of us do want or need someone to confirm our deny the legitimacy of our worry. Sometimes we need a troubleshooter who will tell us that it’s not a big deal, that there are lots of solutions, that things aren’t as bad as we feel they are (or will be).
So figure out what type of person you are, and communicate that to your confidant. Also, it may change depending on the situation, so you may need to be up front with them when you are going through an anxious time.
4) Write it down.
As I said, anxiety is confusing. There is a lot to it, and it’s hard to explain how we feel, how we think, and what we need from our partner.
Nerves and self-consciousness also makes it difficult to fully communicate something that we are uncomfortable with ourselves.
Writing everything down is a great way to get your thoughts on paper, and in a way that effectively communicates what you need to communicate.
You can either present a letter that they can read without interruption, or you can create an outline to help you formulate your thoughts and stay on track if you are talking face-to-face.
Remember that you are describing something that you are very familiar with, but your partner may have no experience with.
5) Learn as much as you can about your anxiety, and help your partner learn about it, too.
The more you understand about how you think, your thought patterns, anxiety triggers, and how anxiety works, the better you’ll be able to communicate with your partner when you are experiencing anxiety.
And the more they know about anxiety disorders, the more they can understand what it is you need from them.
6) Communicate your anxiety triggers.
What might be a simple change of plans, or a slight annoyance, to one person can spiral somebody with anxiety into a very difficult state of mind.
There are things that can trigger our anxiety, and in many cases, they can be avoided or mitigated (within reason).
For example, if sudden changes in plans gets you tied in knots, explain this, and work out ways where you can be part of the planning process.
I get really anxious when plans keep changing, or change at the last minute. Or the worst is when plans are up-in-the-air until the very last minute. That makes me so anxious.
Parties and events where there will be a lot of people make me anxious. If you have an event that’s coming up, work out a strategy with your partner.
For me, it helps to know as much as I can about who will be at the party, what will occur, how long we’re going to stay, etc…
It’s not up to your partner to create an anxiety-free life for you, but you can work with your partner to manage what you can to keep anxiety to a minimum.
7) People Can’t See How You Feel.
Remember that anxiety is an invisible illness, so don’t be upset if you have to remind your partner that you are having a bad day.
They don’t know what you are thinking about or feeling. They can’t always tell just by looking at you that you are suffering, or having a bad day – especially if you are like me and you’re good at hiding it.
It’s too easy to get caught up in our own thoughts that we forget that there is a whole world out there that isn’t in tune with what we are focusing on.
So don’t forget to give a heads up when you’re having a bad day. Try not to get frustrated when you have to keep reminding your partner about what triggers your anxiety.
Be clear about what you need from your partner (or confidant), because they can’t always tell how you’re feeling, just like you can’t always tell what’s on their mind.
I know it’s hard to open up about anxiety – especially when we feel like anxiety is a weakness (it’s not), or that we’re “just being crazy” (you’re not).
But trust me, keeping an open line of communication between your partner or closest friends/family can be a big help – as long as your they are compassionate, understanding, and know a thing or two about what it’s like to have chronic anxiety.