One of the worst parts about anxiety is your fear of its impact on the people you love. Whether your boyfriend or girlfriend, parents, or friends, it can cause you even more anxiety. But you can learn how to explain anxiety to someone you love without fear.
Anxiety is a mental illness still widely misunderstood by society. It is something you do not choose and would not wish on anyone. It is a draining struggle to function daily. [Read: What it feels like to experience anxiety in a relationship]
Why you should explain anxiety to someone you love
Until recently, many people hid their anxieties. Having anxiety can make people feel ashamed and weak. No one wants to admit they are struggling, but talking about it with a professional and especially to the people in your life is not only beneficial but freeing.
It has been proven that sharing your insecurities with those you love and trust helps you to release and face those struggles. Hiding your anxiety only burrows those awful and fearful feelings deeper into your psyche, causing more problems.
Explaining anxiety to someone you love gives them the chance to understand you better. It can help them learn how you feel and what they can do to help. Not to mention you and the people in your life may relate more than you ever thought possible.
Although anxiety is brutal, explaining it to your loved ones is always the way to go. [Read: Why we need to breakdown the stigma of mental illness]
How to explain anxiety to someone you love
You may wonder what sort of expertise I have in offering you advice on how to share and explain anxiety to your loved ones. Well, I have struggled with anxiety severely for more than seven years. Only recently have I begun to get a hold on it and learn how to live with it and face it head-on.
An important part of dealing with anxiety is sharing your story and struggles with the people you love. Although they may not be able to empathize fully, they can be there for you in the exact ways you need.
It can be difficult to explain what anxiety is to yourself. Explaining it to someone you love is quite tricky. But it doesn’t have to be. Just take your time, be brave, and hopefully, the tips I’ve learned from my experiences will help you.
#1 Let go of expectations. Before going into a conversation where you are opening up your biggest insecurities, you can’t expect a certain reaction. Everyone will respond differently. Someone might hug you and just listen. Others might ask questions or interrupt.
If you expect someone to freak out, be annoyed, or understand immediately, you will go into it even more nervous and come out of it frustrated. Anxiety is not letting someone know you are afraid of planes. It is a daily struggle and everyone will react differently. [Read: How to manage your expectations in your relationship]
#2 Be ready. Sharing your struggle with anxiety with someone in your life is not something to do at the spur of the moment. If you aren’t ready, it can negatively affect you.
Before I was ready, I shared it with some people in my life. I got frustrated when they didn’t react how I wanted. Although anxiety is a mental illness, it wasn’t fair of me to put that on them or that frustration on myself.
It is hard to explain something to someone you love when you don’t quite understand it yourself. Take your time. You’ll know when you need those in your life to know. [Read: How to be a better listener in your relationship]
#3 Prepare them. You don’t want to freak anyone out. Anxiety is a big deal and a true struggle. But causing your loved ones to panic when you tell them won’t do anyone any good.
Let them know you want to share something that is hard for you, but you don’t expect anything other than respect and understanding. Also, let them know anxiety is a process. You may always have a level of anxiety inside of you. And if they love you, they will understand.
#4 Be patient. As I said, everyone will react differently. That means it will take some people a while to get used to it or know how to treat you. Some people may walk on eggshells around you for a while. Others will continue to treat you normally because they know this is just a part of you.
Think about how long it has taken you to come to terms with having anxiety. Whoever you share this with may know nothing about it, so give them a chance to learn before writing them off as uncaring.
#5 Help them understand. If you explain anxiety to someone you love, you may have to do more than just say, “I have anxiety.” That means something different to everyone. They could interpret that as social anxiety, nervousness for a date, or something else.
Explain to them how your anxiety affects you. For instance, I do not struggle with social anxiety. Rather, I have anxiety when I go far from home or am in crowds, so I would explain that taking a spur of the moment trip or going shopping on Black Friday would be a nightmare for me.
Give your loved ones a definition of what anxiety means to you. Don’t hold back. Anxiety is essentially fear. Fear of rejection, loss, etc. So clue them in on all that you can.
#6 Answer their questions. The word anxiety comes with a lot of questions. Even for me, someone who has been dealing with it for years and uses the word daily. So answer their questions to the best of your ability. They may want to know how you feel when you have an anxiety attack or how you face it.
If they don’t have any questions, encourage them to ask. You may not know exactly what they want to know, or what would help them understand, so let them know you want to get on the same page. [Read: What does it mean to be vulnerable? Learning how to open up]
#7 Appreciate their effort. When you have anxiety, you can feel like the world is out to get you. You struggle with the people in your life not having that perfect balance between caring and letting you be.
You want your friends to understand when you have to cancel plans. But you also want them to keep inviting you. Everyone will try to accommodate you in their own way. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough because anxiety causes you to be uncertain of how you want to be treated.
Appreciate the friends and family you have that are trying. They may not know exactly what you want or need to be comfortable, but you can tell when they are trying. Even if they didn’t get it right, the effort matters.
#8 They won’t get it right away. Did you? When you first realized you struggled with anxiety, did you understand it? Do you now? Well, they probably don’t either. So work with them.
As I said, appreciate their effort but don’t be afraid to let them know if what they are doing is making it worse. During a panic attack, some people need space while others appreciate a hug or a rub on the back. If your friend is talking to you and you need silence, let them know. They will appreciate the pointers.
#9 Tell them how they can help. It can feel selfish and needy to ask your friends and family for special treatment for your anxiety. If you had a broken leg, would you feel so weird about asking for help? No. So why is a mental illness any different from a physical one?
If your boyfriend driving you around to complete your errands would calm your anxiety or your mom going to the doctor with you would help you face a fear, ask. Your loved ones want you to feel safe and comfortable. Asking for their help is not a sign of weakness but strength.
#10 Let them know if they aren’t helping. The same as telling them how to help, explain anxiety to someone you love to let them know what is not helping or what is making it worse.
Sometimes my friends give me space when I’m anxious when in fact keeping busy and distracted helps me a lot. So instead of festering in my anxiety, I let them know what would be better. [Read: How to listen to your gut and give strength to your inner voice]
#11 Don’t apologize. NEVER apologize for having anxiety. Yes, it can be frustrating to let others down or feel like you are being selfish, inconvenient, or burdensome. You are not.
Mental illness is an illness. It is not your fault. There is no need for you to apologize to anyone in your life. Explain that you have anxiety and that is why you are canceling plans, but do not apologize for your mental illness.
You are not a burden. Being a burden is something I believe everyone with anxiety worries about. You don’t want special treatment, but you need it. You don’t want people to change plans for you, but you need it.
You feel like everyone you love is being weighed down by you while you are being weighed down by anxiety, but you are not. When you explain anxiety to someone you love, remember they love you too. Taking caring of those you love is never a burden.
#12 Remember this is about your health, not their comfort. Something that has taken me ages to come to terms with is that my mental health is more important than someone else’s comfort. If I am having a panic attack and I know who I am with is scared, it is not my job to worry about them.
You need to make your mental health and safety a number one priority. Being fearful that you are putting someone out or letting them down does not matter. It can feel selfish to think that way. If you were physically ill, would you question your focus being on getting yourself better?
#13 You are not selfish. Anxiety feels like a never-ending torment of selfishness that you don’t want. You wish you could put others first and that you could stop thinking about how you feel, yet it always takes over.
That does not make you selfish. It makes you strong. You face your anxiety every day and are now including your loved ones in the conversation. That does not mean you are making everything about you. It means you are letting your loved ones in and improving your relationships.
#14 Try to let them know what to expect. This can be hard to do as anxiety is so hard to predict. You never know if you will want to cancel plans or have a panic attack at the movies.
But giving your loved one a heads up when explaining anxiety to them is helpful for both of you. It may make them more understanding when something does come up. And it will hopefully give you one less thing to be anxious about later on. [Read: The steps to take to better communicate in your relationship]
#15 Know you can lean on them. Now that you have done your best to explain anxiety to someone you love, you can breathe a little easier. Knowing you don’t have to hide this part of yourself or suffer in silence will improve your well being immensely.
[Read: Anxious personality – 7 reasons to date an anxious person]
Knowing how to explain anxiety to someone you love is hard, especially when you can barely explain it to yourself. But with these small steps, you’ll be able to make a big difference in your own life, slowly but surely.
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