Having an anxiety disorder can make life particularly tenuous for relationships.
Friends may easily misread signs they perceive are mean or hurtful, but are actually just the anxious person’s way of dealing with the overwhelming amount of stress and fear and pressure that their anxiety is creating. One woman discusses how she will be trying to look happy or neutral, but actually looks like she is angry, grinding her teeth and scowling, It’s not because of what her friend is talking about; it’s because of the million mile per hour freight train that is going around and around in her head.
Anxiety disorders are not uncommon; it’s estimated that in the United States 18.1% of adults have an anxiety disorder, and only slightly more than half are being treated for it.
That makes anxiety disorders the most common mental illness in the US.
So what can friends of people with anxiety disorders do?
What can they anticipate or understand better so that they react appropriately and/or helpfully? Here are 5 things that people who have an anxiety disorder want you to know:
We’re not angry with you. Our disorder is inflicting everything in the universe it can get ahold of on us all at light speed, so if we seem distracted, quiet or distant, that has nothing to do with you. We are trying to hold it together while feeling like we are bursting at the seams and being companionable at once. We’re not mad. We’re just a little befuddled, out of sorts, not quite all the way there. Please don’t take it personally.
We may not be sleeping a whole lot. Of the many things we might be doing while we’re supposed to be sleeping, here are a few that are actually happening: night terrors, nightmares, active dreaming, lucid dreaming, ruminating, or just experiencing general symptoms of insomnia. The point is, we’re not sleeping well, and it affects us during the day.
We absolutely love our friends. If we are canceling on you, it’s because of our anxiety. Even if we made plans months ago, if our anxiety is running high that day, we may have to cancel our plans. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you…in fact, quite the opposite. We love you dearly. We fear constantly that you won’t love us anymore for canceling plans. Please keep us in your circles, your plans, your events, even if we can’t show up. We always want to be there.
We need hugs. Granted, some of us don’t handle being touched very well at all, so please ask us if we need a hug. Even if we say no or that we’re not in a place where that it possible, we so appreciate that you asked. Knowing you care means the world to us.
We all experience anxiety differently.
Want to drive an anxious person nuts? Start telling us what worked for your anxiety. Everyone is different, and everyone’s anxiety is different too. If we want your input we promise you we will ask for it, but beyond that, please don’t try to advise us. It’s belittling, demeaning and patronizing. Please just don’t.
What is missing? What did I forget? Let me know in the comments!