During the years my mother was still putting me to bed, I would ask her one question before she left my room each night: “Can you give me something good to think about?”
I hoped her suggestions would give me a way to prevent my brain from spiraling out of control. I didn’t realize it at the time, but thus began decades of trying to find ways to escape my own anxious thoughts.
And despite the fact that I’ve likely had anxiety since I was a toddler, it’s only in the last five years that I’ve been able to acknowledge it and start talking about it.
Anxiety-related disorders like Social Anxiety Disorder are split evenly between the genders, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to live with anxiety unless you’ve experienced it. But for every woman (and man) who struggles with these issues, there are a whole host of people around them who want to try and understand.
Below are 15 things anyone who loves someone with anxiety should know.
1. Anxiety is physical. Your chest tightens, your head feels cloudy and you are acutely aware of the effort behind every breath. When you feel as though you have a small child made of frenetic negative energy trying to beat her way out of your body, it becomes impossible to ignore.
2. And it’s all-consuming. One of the reasons that anxiety is so frustrating is because the physical discomfort makes it impossible to think about anything else.
3. You feel anxiety in your hands, your chest, your head, your eyes and your stomach, out to the very tips of your fingers and toes. It’s there and it wants to get the hell out of your body.
4. It can be treated, but not “cured.” Even with years of therapy, like any chronic condition, anxiety disorders require management. Treatment is more about giving people with anxiety the tools to help themselves than making the anxiety go away forever.
5. Therapy, exercise and anti-anxiety medication can all help. But each person needs something different.
6. Our anxiety might be exactly what makes us so damn productive. Turn in a paper late? Fail to finish a task at work? Not show up for an event we’ve committed to? Hell no.
7. And it can be a great survival mechanism. This comic comparing anxiety to a superpower really says it all. Anxiety can make you more empathetic, driven and aware of the dynamics around you.
8. It means a lot if we’re talking about it with you. Mental health issues are still stigmatized, so it can be awkward to open up about them. Which brings us to the next point…
9. We’re not “crazy.” Ban the word crazy from your vocabulary ASAP. It’s attached to a long history of being used to invalidate women’s thoughts and needs. Plus, everyone has their sh*t.
10. Just let us cry. All. The. Tears. (#SorryNotSorry for releasing emotion.)
11. We know our triggers are irrational. Yes, we’re intellectually aware that we probably won’t die alone in an apartment full of cats, and we probably are not dry drowning at this very moment. Yet that awareness doesn’t change the fact that there are things outside of our control which make it nearly impossible not to have an emotional (and physical) reaction.
12. But don’t make us feel stupid. Just let the wave of anxiety ride out, and be by our side while it does.
13. Sometimes a back rub makes everything better. And sometimes it doesn’t.
14. It’s not about you. It’s about us.
15. But we need your support — and your patience. Thanks for being there. It means more than you know.