5 good things to say to your anxious friend

We all have this innate desire to make someone feel better with our words. It’s a curious one. Brené Brown says in her description of what empathy is, that, “rarely does a response make something better.” One of those pearls that force you to stop and think..

“Oh yeah, I guess that’s true actually. Yeah. So… why do I still scrabble around for something to say as if I’m in a political debate and I must must MUST have an answer to this person’s struggle.”

Ultimately, people don’t want to feel alone in their pain. Perhaps, it’s just the person behind the response itself that matters. Even the most incredibly awful condolences can be accepted merely by the thought that the person meant well. At least they said SOMETHING. At least they’re here.

Yet there are things that you can say that can help an anxious person. When I’m suffering with an anxiety attack the support of people around me matters. It doesn’t make the anxiety disappear but it can help me onto the right track to deal with it myself.

1. “I don’t know what to say”

Start from a place of recognising that you can’t switch their anxiety off immediately with some words. Put more weight on your presence rather than your wisdom. If someone asks you for advice, don’t be annoying and sidestep it. But take care when advising that you’re not coming from a place of thinking there is an easy answer. Especially if you’ve never suffered with acute anxiety yourself. Ask what you can do. Engage with empathy and try to connect with how they are feeling. This almost always involves…

2. “I’m here and I’m listening”

Often people don’t say everything that’s going on inside them. Often people label one feeling as something other than what it is until they talk about it. Often people don’t know why they are feeling a certain way until they start to verbalise and explain it. There are many reasons why talking can impact how one is feeling. Hence the reason why counselling is often referred to as ‘talking therapy’. It all goes back to Freud who, as well as coming up with some rather creepy notions, discovered that simply talking provided healing in and of itself.

Be available for your friend to talk it out. That’s a wonderful gift to anyone.

friend quote winnie the pooh

3. “You’re great”

This is an element of anxiety I’m just getting my head around. Negative self-talk heightens anxiety. Being a perfectionist heightens anxiety because it can only produce a perpetual fear of failure. One of the wonderful things I learned through counselling was to talk to myself like I would to a friend. If I spoke to my friends the way I sometimes thought about myself, well I’d be lonelier than Eleanor Oliphant. Big your anxious friend up more than usual. But in a subtle way that they can accept as truth.

4. “Have you thought about counselling or psychiatry?”

Anxiety and panic disorders can be overcome. Medication can help provide some stability but dealing with the root causes of anxiety can require some expert help as well as some good self-help. I’ll never forget when I first became ill and I contacted a psychologist I saw after both my bereavements. He had moved away and I was asking for recommendations. He said to me that he was sorry I was experiencing panic attacks but a few simple techniques can “send them packing”. I find the simplicity of that statement so reassuring.

Yes, it requires hard work and patience to put those techniques into practice to the point that you are fully recovered. Yet the simplicity of his statement acknowledges that there is a chemical reaction going on in your body that can be changed. Getting down to those hard facts about anxiety can help you regain some control when you feel like you’ve just gone completely bonkers and are riddled with many illnesses and will die. People around you who remind you that they are just feelings that will pass and you CAN get better is essential. Sometimes you need to hear that from someone who has studied the human brain before you feel convinced.

A good counsellor or psychiatrist will help you get to the bottom of why YOU are suffering with anxiety and what you need to change and how. Go for it.

5. “You’ve got this”

If your friend has done the whole therapy thing and has a little toolbox of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), mindfulness, and breathing techniques, why not get them to tell you what it is they have to do so you can remind them. When your body has kicked into fight or flight it is very easy for your negative thought cycle to worsen and all the techniques to go flying up into the abyss like a helium-filled balloon. You lose all faith in their ability to work and your ability to effectively put them into practice.

What would be nice is if your counsellor or psychiatrist could follow you about all the time and coach you through your daily life. I couldn’t afford that and I don’t think they’d want to. Shame. I think if my husband started ‘coaching’ me in a coach-y sort of way I might start imagining giving him a swift back-hander. But to have him or a friend say, you know what you need to do and you’re strong, you’ve GOT THIS, could make all the difference.

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This coaster from Edie and Rona would make a good gift… to me.

Do you suffer with anxiety? What’s the most helpful thing someone has said to you?

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invest in your mental health and get creative

Are you content with how you spend your evenings? Are you stressed and overwhelmed? Struggling with your mental health?

I have a suggestion for you. It’s called, CREATE NIGHT.

I listened to a podcast about happiness a while back (BBC radio 4 I think) and one guest on the show talked about happiness being a less salient state. We tend not to notice it as much as we notice the unhappiness and stress. I believe this is true. Throw our digital world into the mix and before you’ve even blinked, your happiness at the beautiful sunrise you’ve just experience is thrown aside by the discontentment you now feel after seeing the breathtaking photo of the Northern Lights that someone has just posted on Instagram.

The show participants went on to discuss when they felt the most happy. This was when they were doing something that required their full attention. It was an activity that forced them to be fully engaged in the moment. This is one of the reasons gardening is good for you. It is one such task that fully absorbs you, mind and body. It presents little problems that aren’t world-crushing, but require your thoughtful attention to solve. You learn and achieve, which is uplifting. It can have it’s failures and frustrations but at the end of the day – it’s just a garden.

In our garden, I set aside this patch to plant vegetables and then planted some flower seeds in the adjacent bed. A purple, butterfly-attracting blend of flora and fauna. My husband observed to me the other day, once the plants were well and truly growing, “it’s interesting how you’ve planted butterfly-attracting flowers next to the vegetables seeing as how their offspring will destroy anything edible that grows there.”

Well, a little too late with the nature lesson, pal.

It was actually kind of funny. Whereas, when things go wrong at work, it’s not so funny. Palpitation-inducing, rather.

what is CREATE NIGHT?

It is an evening when you set out to create something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be for a purpose. In fact, it’s ideal if it’s not purposeful. If you end up giving it away or using it for something because it’s ended up being rather delightful, then bonus.

If you don’t believe you are creative, you’re wrong. Every human being is. We all just create different things. To create means to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before. It is a skill that can be practised and the more you create the more “creative” you become, which can benefit you in all areas of life including work.

what could you create?

Your CREATE NIGHT could involve the following skills/activities:

  • Drawing
  • Model building
  • Letter writing
  • Poetry
  • Scrap-booking
  • Photography
  • Sewing
  • Baking
  • Videography
  • Orienteering
  • Writing fiction
  • Writing non-fiction
  • Event planning
  • Recipe writing
  • Connection (not just any socialising but intentional, like phoning the Gran you don’t keep in touch with well)
  • Gardening
  • Interior design
  • Sculpting
  • Painting
  • Reviewing
  • Dancing
  • Playing an instrument
  • Beauty therapy
  • Design
  • Scheduling
  • Language-learning
  • Video game design
  • Computer programming

The idea is that you’re not doing one of these things to tick off an admin task or do something you needed to do anyway. It is simply to create.

why, though?

It is good for your mental health. This is because it absorbs you in the task and serves as a distraction, as already mentioned. It also serves as it’s own kind of therapy.

“Often creativity helps you to express parts of yourself that are being hidden,” says Dr Sheridan Linnell, who runs the Master of Art Therapy course at the University of Western Sydney. “Expression through art can be healing in itself, and it can also be a stepping stone for being able to make sense of yourself and express your story to others.”

From a Guardian article about Art Therapy

CREATE NIGHT is an antidote to perfectionism. No one ever makes the perfect result first time around. That can often be the agonising thing about being a professional artist – not knowing when to call a piece ‘finished’.

My perfectionism trait is a trigger for anxiety. The fear of getting it wrong when it really counts can be paralysing. To open myself up to mistakes and failure when it doesn’t count helps me build resilience.

The focus is on creating something and that is the achievement, not the standard of the created thing. Feeling a sense of achievement is so important when you’re battling a mental health problem.

So, why don’t you join me? Any night of the week, whatever you fancy creating. Tweet me with a pic or just tell me what you created #createnight

some rules

No criticising what you create to others. It’s not the point. And if it’s amazing, no one likes false humility. 😉

No pressure. You don’t have to commit to doing it on the same night and every week. It’s not supposed to be something else you could fail at and feel guilt over.

Go wild! Imagine this, you could actually try the thing you’ve been wanting to try doing forever. Ssh! No one even has to know, it’s just for you. Why can’t you write a book? Why can’t you paint a picture having never picked up a paintbrush since you were nine, except to paint your lounge?

Share your create night with others but don’t let it limit you nor bring out your inner-critic. It’s vulnerable but that could be a good thing if you’re both/all willing to share in it.

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A creation from my first #createnight. I was making monoprints by laying paper down onto ink and drawing on the back. I used a scrap bit of paper to lift excess ink from the glass and decided there was something nice about it and wrote on top with a sharpie.

PTSD and anxiety: how they’re connected

PTSD is when you experience episodes of panic, flashbacks and distress after you go through a traumatic event. War, car crashes, assault, rape, and any other traumatic event can lead you to develop PTSD. Although no longer under the anxiety disorder umbrella, PTSD has a few connections with anxiety.

Like anxiety, PTSD can be episodic, and have certain triggers. With an episode of PTSD, you may have a flashback to what happened and go through a period of great distress.

Triggers

A trigger is something that is usually harmless that sets off your anxiety or PTSD. Triggers can be visual, or involve other senses such as smell. If you have PTSD due to war, the sound of a gunshot can trigger you. For anxiety disorder, the triggers can be random. Moving out and starting a new life can be a trigger. Too much alcohol can be a trigger.

Write down any trigger you experience and figure out how you can avoid them. Sometimes, they’re unavoidable, and in cases like these, therapy may be an option.

Anxiety, PTSD, and Depression

One of the symptoms you may have with both disorders is depression. With PTSD, you may have episodes where you have low self-esteem or feel worthless. Especially if your PTSD is connected to an event that brought your self-esteem down. Anxious people may develop depression over their episodes, and it’s common for people to have both anxiety and depression as disorders.

Suicidal thoughts can be possible as well if you have PTSD or anxiety. If you feel suicidal, seek help immediately.

As an Anxiety Disorder

The classification of PTSD as an anxiety disorder is an interesting one. In the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association), PTSD was considered an anxiety disorder. However, in the DSM-5 (the most current version of the DSM), it became known as a trauma and stressor related disorder.

With that said, PTSD does have some genetic influences. Studies have shown that PTSD and other anxiety disorders can be inherited from family genetics, but research is still ongoing to determine specific causal genes.

Statistics

General anxiety disorders are quite common. In the US, 40 million adults, or about 1/5th of the population, may have some form of anxiety disorder each year. Despite them being treatable, only about 1/3 of anxiety sufferers seek medical treatment (adaa.org).

anxiety pic
Photo credit: activebeat.com

The Invisible Disorders

Another thing anxiety and PTSD have in common is that it’s hard for someone who doesn’t have it to understand what’s going on. Some people may feel like the person with PTSD or anxiety is overthinking things or just needs to get over it. When talking to someone with these disorders, be empathetic and try to help them whenever you can.

Seeking Help 

If you have PTSD, or an anxiety disorder, you should seek counselling as soon as you can. While PTSD is not so easy to overcome, a professional can help you to overcome it. Left untreated, PTSD can take over your life. It can put you out of a job, strain relationships, and have a negative impact on your mental health.

A doctor can help prescribe medications that can treat symptoms of PTSD. A therapist can teach you ways to cope and how to avoid situations that may trigger your PTSD. You will also learn how to recover from an episode faster and avoid certain triggers.

Both diseases are traumatic to go through, but by seeking help and treating it, the person may be able to live a healthy, productive life.

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This guest post was written by Marie Miguel, who has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.