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Understanding What Anxiety Feels Like

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 40 million adults in the United States alone are affected by a mental disorder known as anxiety. People suffering from this disorder are plagued with feelings of fear, panic and anxiousness. Just because we cannot relate to what they feel does not mean that their feelings aren’t real. A wise man once said,” Telling someone with anxiety to just calm down is like telling someone with epilepsy to just stop having seizures!” It is not easy for friends and family of anxious people to help them, but it is important for us to show our support and care for them. Listed below are thirteen points that let us understand what a person suffering from anxiety might be going through, and how to deal with them.

1. They cannot control their emotions, even if they want to.

Most panic attacks come out of nowhere, and at the most unexpected times. Anxious people are aware that they are having a panic attack, but there is no ‘on’ or ‘off’ switch for anxiety. Asking them to try breathing exercises or count to ten might help ease the feeling of anxiety, but the emotions they feel are ultimately inevitable.

2. They can’t stop feeling anxious, even if they know that there is no reason to worry.

People suffering from anxiety know that there may not be any reason to worry, but they cannot control their feelings. They don’t want to feel that way, but they cannot help it. So, even if you feel that they are worrying about ‘silly’ things, try to understand it from their point of view.

3. They don’t feel anxious on purpose – they would much rather want the feeling to go away.

Panic attacks can hit the victims when they least expect it. They don’t like it; but that does not mean that the feeling will disappear. The truth is, there is a very small chance that the feeling will go away. We must let them know that we accept their feelings, and will always support them.

4. Most of the time, they don’t understand why they feel anxious.

There is never always a reason for feeling anxious. Sometimes, even the simplest of things could trigger a panic attack. It could be a sound, or something somebody said, but the people suffering from anxiety will not be able to justify the same.

5. Saying,” Don’t worry” or “It’s okay” does not help them.

This is the most common mistake that family or friends make while dealing with anxious people. Reassuring them might seem like the right thing to do, but it doesn’t really help. The bottom line is that telling an anxious person to calm down doesn’t actually calm them down! Instead, it bridges a gap between that person and you, because they will start to feel like you don’t understand. A better way to deal with the situation is by letting them know that you understand what they are going through and that you are willing to listen if, and when they would like to talk about it.

6. They do not like to be looked at with pity.

This is one of the worst things we can do to people with anxiety. Anxious people usually relate their anxiety to self-pity; and for them to know that other people pity them as well makes it a lot worse. When we look at an anxious person with pity, we are indirectly communicating to them that they are weak and cannot get through this situation. Treat them like you would treat any other person. If they have a meltdown in public, embrace them and let them know you understand. If they cannot hang out, tell them it’s alright, and that you’d love to hang out with them another time. A small act of kindness will go a long way in building up their self-confidence.

7. A person suffering from anxiety can be an extrovert too.

The general misconception is that an anxious person is an introvert. It’s hard to imagine that an extrovert, an outgoing person, can suffer from anxiety. However, an anxiety disorder is not determined by our personality type. Anybody can have an anxiety disorder; irrespective of whether they are an introvert or an extrovert. The next time you see an extrovert having a meltdown, don’t tell them to ‘relax’ or stop overreacting. An extrovert, while being the life of a party, might be silently suffering inside.

8. They are not doing it for attention.

When a person suffering from anxiety has a meltdown, the general reaction is that they are ‘attention seekers’ or ‘being dramatic’. People fail to understand that anxious people have absolutely no control over what they feel. They cannot time their panic attacks, or calm down instantly. They aren’t trying to grab attention. Instead, they feel embarrassed by all the attention that they receive. By accusing them of being attention seekers, we are making the situation worse for them. They will lose their self-confidence, start blaming themselves, and will feel lonely and unwanted.

9. Give them some space.

While you might care and genuinely want to help, a person suffering from anxiety may not like that. They would prefer to have their own personal space. Give them their space, but don’t forget to let them know that you are always there for them. While an anxious person may ask for space, they will be constantly worrying about whether they hurt you or whether you hate them. So, it is important to remind them not to worry, and that you understand.

10. They are not ‘just stressed out’.

There is absolutely no relation between anxiety and stress. There are chances that an anxious person might be more anxious under stressful situations, but they can also be anxious when everything seems to be okay. Telling them ‘not to stress out’ is extremely frustrating for them to hear because they don’t know how to explain what they are actually feeling.

11. You cannot ‘fix’ them.

We are all not experts in dealing with anxiety, so there is no point trying to ‘cure’ our friends or loved ones. People suffering from anxiety may not like to talk about their problem, and would prefer to deal with it on their own. Instead, we can let them know that we are always there for them, and that we understand what they might be going through. Our role is to offer emotional support to them. We could also advise them to speak to an expert to deal with their disorder.

12. Do not try to make spontaneous plans with them.

Making spontaneous plans with people suffering from anxiety will just make them more anxious. For them, their schedule is crucial and any deviation from their schedule could trigger a panic attack. Make plans with them a couple of days in advance, and don’t take it personally if they cancel the plan at the last minute.

13. Please don’t give up on them.

Making spontaneous plans with people suffering from anxiety will just make them more anxious. For them, their schedule is crucial and any deviation from their schedule could trigger a panic attack. Make plans with them a couple of days in advance, and don’t take it personally if they cancel the plan at the last minute.
13. Please don’t give up on them.

Lastly, never give up on them. They may say or do things they do not mean, but it is important to understand that the disorder is not under their control. The above points are sufficient to understand what a person suffering from anxiety might be going through, and give us the ability to make an effort to be there for them and love them unconditionally.

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