“You would feel better if you got out more.”
Compounding the problem is the notion that people with anxiety will be unable to conceive promising opportunities or events to participate in outside of their home because they are so negative and disconnected. Even if they wanted to get out, they would have no idea where to go or what to do.
Try this: I am going out later and I really want you to come with me. We could go whenever you want and leave when you are feeling uncomfortable. When should I pick you up?
“Maybe you are having a heart attack.”
When someone is having a panic attack, the physical symptoms are amazingly intense. They cannot breathe. They experience anxiety and chest pain, where they feel extreme tightness and pressure in their chest. Their vision can become blurred as they break out in a cold sweat. It is anything but comfortable.
With all of these physical symptoms, it is challenging for them to remember that the source is mental rather than physical. They are not having a heart attack, a seizure or a stroke. Being safe and erring on the side of caution is always a good idea, but if your concern creates more anxiety by increasing worry, this statement will not give the help your loved one is looking for.
Try this: “Maybe your anxiety is high right now, and its sparking some physical symptoms. Remember, this is discomfort – not danger. You’re going to be okay.”
“Why don’t you have a couple drinks to relax?”
If someone is feeling a little nervous or uncomfortable, especially in social situation, having a few drinks of alcohol is the perfect way to relax and unwind, right? Not right! Certainly, alcohol is not problematic in moderation, but people with anxiety are at greater risk of using alcohol as self-medication.
In the world of anxiety, there are positive coping skills and negative coping skills. Positive coping skills are focused on finding lasting solutions where negative coping skills are interested in quick fixes. Alcohol does not improve the situation. It only covers it up so they don’t have to think about it for a day. Tomorrow, the same problems return.
Try this: “Things might feel scary at first, but the longer you’re there, the better you’ll feel. Let’s have you get comfortable the right way.”
“My medication works for me. Try some.”
First of all, taking someone else’s medication is never a good idea. If it is a fast-acting antianxiety medication like a benzodiazepine that you have been taking for several years, you have built up a tolerance to it. Your loved one has not. It could lead to severe side effects or even death. Secondly, giving your medication to someone else is illegal and could land you in major legal trouble. Again, this situation helps no one.
Try this: “I take medication for anxiety. Maybe you should consider talking to a prescriber about your symptoms to see if something would help.”
The secret to helping someone with anxiety is being willing to do the work to make lasting improvements. Avoid the quick fixes, shortcuts and finger-pointing to help the people in your life.
Saying the wrong thing could end with less supports and more anxiety. No one wins in that scenario. You will have to choose between what is easy and what is best. Unfortunately, they are rarely the same.