Explaining your anxiety to someone who’s never struggled with it can be exhausting. It’s complicated, emotional, and frustrating at times. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and misunderstood if you can’t get the words out right. You may even feel guilty, or like you don’t want to burden anyone with your problems. As overwhelming as it might be, we must be able to communicate our feelings to the people we love. Their support is valuable, and it makes life a whole lot easier.
At Sun Behavioral Health Delaware, we place a great deal of importance on your support systems. When you’re suffering from a mental health condition, the last thing you need is to feel alone. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you explain your anxiety disorder to your family and friends. These are people that care about you; they want to understand you and they want to help.
How to Explain Your Feelings to Someone Who Doesn’t Have Anxiety
First of all, it’s important to remember that people who’ve never struggled with anxiety just don’t get how consuming it can be. When they think of the word “anxiety, they link it with words like “stress, “worry,” or “fear.” Those three things (stress, worry, and fear) mean something different than they do to you. This is why, when you’re explaining your experiences to someone else, you should always take an educational approach. You are teaching them what an anxiety disorder is in a way they can understand. Here are some things you can say that will help:
- “It isn’t just a feeling, it’s physical.” You probably feel anxiety in your body if you have an anxiety disorder. Your heart races, your hands tremble, and you might feel constant fatigue because you don’t sleep well. This makes concentrating difficult, so things like work and school can sometimes be an uphill battle. Basic things like exercise or cleaning can also be difficult because of this. The people you care about need to understand this. Chances are, they’ve never experienced anxiety like that before.
- “Everything can be fine, but I still feel a constant sense of impending doom. Like something bad is about to happen.” Friends and family need to understand that your fears are constant. One of the most uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety disorder is the persistent fear that something bad is going to happen. This might prevent you from taking chances, trying new things, or setting goals.
- “When I get a panic attack, I feel like…” Most people are vaguely aware of what a panic attack is. They see it on TV or read about it in books. But no matter how much exposure they’ve had to the idea of panic attacks, they don’t know what it feels like to experience one. Explain it in detail. Maybe it feels like your chest is being crushed or darkness is surrounding you. Perhaps you feel disconnected from your body – like you’re watching it from the outside. Is it hard for you to breathe? Do you feel like you might pass out or throw up? Share this so they know what you’re experiencing.
- “I can’t always ‘let things go.’ Sometimes my thoughts are like a hamster wheel; they go around and around, repeating themselves with no end in sight.” Repetitive, catastrophic thinking is all-too-common with anxiety disorders, and sometimes it’s debilitating. As you grow with your condition, you slowly learn to quell destructive thinking. You find healthy anxiety coping mechanisms to keep unhealthy thoughts away. You learn to catch negative thinking and change it. But even if you’re an expert in your anxiety, it’s likely that you’re going to struggle with rumination. If the people you love know this, they can give you some patience and understanding.
How to Explain Your Behaviors to People Who Don’t Have Anxiety
The feeling of being judged can be devastating for someone with anxiety. Unfortunately, your family, friends, coworkers, or doctors might not understand what’s going on with you. That might look like judgment.
Explaining your behaviors to others doesn’t mean you’re defending yourself from criticism. You’re just helping the people around you understand what’s happening. You’re also protecting their feelings by being truthful. If they know the scope of what you’re dealing with, they’re less likely to take it personally.
Let’s discuss some common behaviors associated with anxiety disorder, and how you can explain them in a way others will understand.
- Canceling plans or not making plans. Anxiety disorder can be unpredictable. There are days when taking a shower feels like climbing a mountain. Going out with friends or making time for other activities isn’t always realistic – especially if you’re anxious. It’s hard to make plans with people when you don’t know whether or not you’ll be up for going. It’s also common to make plans with good intentions and cancel them later when your energy fails you. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s part of living with anxiety. The people you allow into your life need to be okay with that.
- Sleeping in late or taking frequent naps. People who don’t live with anxiety don’t always understand why you can’t “toughen up” and make it through the day. If you had quality sleep in the evenings, you wouldn’t need sleep during the day. It should also be noted that fear is exhausting. Living with fear takes up a considerable amount of your mental and physical energy. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself grace and compassion by taking a nap. Sleep is vital to the healing process, and it’s needed to navigate anxiety. Your family and friends will understand this.
- Irritability or a short temper. Anxiety disorders affect nervous system responses. This means that you’re more likely to feel startled by little things, feel sensitive inside your body, or that you have a hard time keeping calm. The sensitivity of your nervous system can lead to things like irritability or short tempers. You’re more likely to feel “on edge.” This is fairly normal, and it’s no one’s fault. If the people around you understand this, they’re less likely to take your irritability personally.
- Distancing yourself from people you love. People close to you might have a hard time understanding why you sometimes pull away or can’t open up. Your anxiety might cause you to distance yourself from others at times. It might be because you don’t want to burden them with your problems. It could also be because you feel like people will see you as a “downer.” Having the energy to talk might also be difficult for you. All of this is normal and related to your anxiety. Talking to your family or friends about why you sometimes pull away will help them understand you and your boundaries.
How to Tell Others What You Need (Or How to Set Boundaries) When You Have an Anxiety Disorder
Setting healthy boundaries with others is always important, but it’s even more important when you’re struggling with anxiety or depression. Being pushed into situations you’re uncomfortable with isn’t always good for your mental health.
You deserve support. The people that belong in your life want to hear your boundaries so they can help. What’s comfortable for someone else may not be comfortable for you, and that’s ok. Here are some of the ways you can kindly (and effectively) phrase your boundaries:
- If a friend or family member is pushing you to make plans: “I can’t make plans for this weekend yet. I’m just not sure how I’ll be feeling. Can I get back to you later in the week?”
- If a friend or family member is pushing you to talk (and you’re not ready): “Thank you for checking up on me. I’m taking a little space to process right now. I’ll get in touch soon.”
- If a friend or family member is pushing you to explain your anxiety or panic attacks when you’re not in the right headspace to discuss it yet: “I’m not able to discuss my feelings right now, but when I’m ready I will let you know.”
- If a friend or family member asks you to do something that will trigger your anxiety: “I don’t feel comfortable doing (insert activity) because it triggers my anxiety. Can we try (insert activity) instead?”
- If you have one of those friends or family members that feels like they need to “fix” your anxiety: “Thank you for your advice. I see how much you want to help, but this is making me feel overwhelmed. If you could refrain from giving me advice until I ask for it, I’d really appreciate that.”
What to Expect From People Who Don’t Have Anxiety
When you’ve made the decision to confide in someone about your anxiety disorder, you may not always get the response you’d like. Not everyone will understand things like why you can’t control it, why its impact on your life is so large, or why you’re struggling. That’s okay – it can take time for others to fully accept what you’re telling them. Here are some of the common things you might hear from others about your anxiety:
- “Isn’t it just in your head?”
- “You just need to take better care of yourself.”
- “You just need to learn how to let things go.”
- “Just stay positive. Think about the good things, stop focusing on the bad.”
- “You just need to stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
- “Other people have bigger problems than you, and they’re doing fine.”
When you hear things like this, try to remain patient and try not to take it personally. Anxiety disorder is complex. Those of us who have it don’t always fully understand it, either. Remain steadfast in your mission to educate your family and friends about what anxiety disorder really is and how it’s affecting you.
Get Treatment for Anxiety Disorder Today!
At Sun Behavioral Health Delaware, we understand the complexities of anxiety disorder. We want you to know that you’re never alone. Our staff is standing by to help you find relief. If you or someone you love is struggling and would like information on anxiety treatment, call us today at (302) 205-0361.
FAQs About How to Explain Anxiety To Someone
How do I describe the feeling of anxiety?
Explain what you feel when you have a panic attack or when you’re overwhelmed with worry and fear. You can say things like “It feels like my chest is being crushed by a truck” or “it feels like something is going to jump out at me every minute of the day.” It’s also important to explain your sense of impending doom. You can say, “things can be perfectly fine, but I always feel like something bad is about to happen.”
How do I tell someone I have anxiety?
If you’ve made the decision to talk to someone about your anxiety, make sure it’s on a day when you have the energy to talk about it. Start off by telling them why you’ve chosen to include them in your mental health journey. Oftentimes, explaining your anxiety to someone will give them the opportunity to show compassion and find ways to help you.
How do I explain anxiety to my doctor?
Talk to your doctor about anxiety the same way you’d talk to a friend or family member. Tell them what you experience on a daily basis. Explain what you feel when you have panic attacks. Remember – the more you tell your doctor, the more they can help.