Anxiety doesn’t want your advice about stress management, and neither do I.

Please stop responding to my anxiety with, “stress isn’t good for you, you know.” 

I know. 

I do know, because I can’t tell you how much money has been spent on profesional help and medication, or even the physical illnesses that never seem to end, as the distress my body experiences is a result of my anxiety. 

“You’re really stressed out, you really need to learn how to calm down.” 

I would be rich enough to afford therapy more often if I had a cent for every time I’ve heard that in my life. I’m nervous, jumpy, and always clouded with an agitated sense of urgency; I worry a lot, and make small things seem big. Before exams, I’m panicking, and when something goes wrong, I freak out. I have split ends, I bite my nails, I’m not good at relaxing, and I have a generalized anxiety disorder. 

For those of us who struggle with anxiety, it’s a mixture of intense frustration and hurt when someone throws used, dusty, fridge-magnet wisdom about stress at us when we express our anxiety, because it’s insulting to tell us our disorder is the same as feeling under pressure. 

Don’t get me wrong, stress is quite literally a killer (disclaimer, don’t read that if you’re anxious about health…) It’s a mental health concern that is a modern pandemic, and it’s a valid and serious problem for many people. But it is not the same as anxiety, and it hurts us deeply when you treat them as interchangeable terms for a biological response to demands.

To all those out there who haven’t suffered from anxiety: When I try to talk about how anxiety is causing me distress and hindering me in something, understand that it was challenging for me to begin talking about my anxiety to begin with. To be met with invalidation and ignorance in the form of, “wow, man, you’re quite the stress-ball! You should try-makes me cry when I go home and begin my nighttime routine of sedatives and countless other steps in my precarious mental health regimen that allows me to make it through another day. 

So, when someone says, “I’m feeling anxious about-“ or, “Yeah, I know it’s fine, I’m just having anxiety over -“ here are some options to substitute anything along the lines of “don’t stress,”: 

“Would you like to talk about why you’re feeling anxious, or are you not sure?” 

“What are you anxious about? Here are all the reasons why those worries are irrational to help you realize that too.” 

“List all your ‘what if-‘ scenarios and lets debunk them as you go.” 

I’m tired of defending my mental illness, and I’m tired of trying to convince people to legitimize my suffering. I shouldn’t have to prove that my “stressed out personality” is more serious than that and that I need space, support and respect when I’m not ok.

It’s the small things that make people feel like they can open up about their mental health challenges, and not unintentionally invalidating anxiety is a great way to let the people you care about know that you see them, you hear them, and that they don’t have to struggle alone. 

And for my fellow anxiety-sufferers: I know it’s not our job to educate the world, but when it comes to the people directly in our space, we need to care enough about ourselves to speak up when presented with situations like having your anxiety invalidated by people who think that saying, “just calm down, it’s not that big of a deal” is good advice. Next time, say it – say, “Thanks, but, although it’s something I don’t like talking about, I have an anxiety disorder, and it’s a little more challenging to work around it than that.”

I promise that people aren’t as unsupportive of your mental health as you think. They just don’t know, and they often don’t understand. Being open about our challenges – to whatever degree we feel comfortable, but at least a little bit – is part of breaking apart that crafty stigma that makes our issues even more difficult, and it’s part of raising awareness for how the world needs to get on board with us even when we aren’t on board with ourselves. A society that normalizes talking about, validating and helping with mental illness is one we need.

I know it’s scary to think about admitting to mental health struggles (at least for me, anyway, it’s the stuff of nightmares), but on the occasions I actually found the courage to voice why I missed the meeting, lecture, event or phone call (because I was having panic attacks and I can’t always afford medication), it was met with support, empathy, and a response that actually massively eased the weight of my anxiety.

So next time, take the leap!

43 thoughts on “Anxiety doesn’t want your advice about stress management, and neither do I.

    • Frustration is a feeling I know all to well, too! Hopefully people will start learning to respect people who struggle with anxiety enough to know we know our mental health better than they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You are so right about this subject! When JES gets anxiety attacks he always lets me know at the beginning, so that i am not asking him every 5 minutes are you okay? which makes him more anxious! i just tell him let me know what you need from me until it passes, but that took a lot of learning over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! I can completely relate to the frustration and the trying and the money and the body breaking down and people just basically thinking its easily in your power to “calm down” or “get a grip”. It’s not that easy and people need to get that. Great post. I feel like you wrote the thoughts in my head.

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  3. Yes, I hate it when people tell me to “calm down.” That never helps but only makes me angry and increase my anxiety. I think people want to help sometimes but they just don’t have a clue how to help or know the right things to say. I love the “fridge magnet wisdom” phrase… that my friend is pure wisdom. Great article (post). I am sorry you are experiencing such severe anxiety. Anxiety is horrific and so painful that it stops you in your tracks and interferes with your quality of life and living and your ability to be the best you. No one can truly understand how painful and debilitating it is unless they have lived experience with it. Best wishes and be well. Much love and hugs, Sue

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Completely relate. And from your post and comments, I see I’m not alone in being annoyed with someones says “relax” or “stop worrying about it.” I CAN’T! Wish there were a solid fridge-like magnet retort we could have to express our feelings when they do say things dismissive things.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Anxiety doesn’t want your advice about stress management, and neither do I. — The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog – inspiramble

  6. Pingback: Anxiety doesn’t want your advice about stress management, and neither do I. — The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog – Hunting Happiness

  7. I loved this title! I was clinically depressed for around 14 years and now don’t suffer at all, but my 3 kids all have anxiety, so…

    The ignorance of people astounds me though.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This was very well written and it resonated strongly with me. There are two things i experience that I genuinely feel no one can understand if they have not personally experienced it themselves: a full panic attack and a migraine. Panic attacks aren’t “wigging out” or “being nervous” and migraines aren’t “a headache”. I feel you can’t truly understand the intensity and the all consuming misery they each inflict. Thanks for your post, Miranda


  9. Good job. Anxiety sufferers being told to “calm down and relax” is as futile of an exercise as when it is suggested to those of us who deal with depression to “look on the bright side.” Well GOOD GRIEF, man, if I COULD, don’t you think I WOULD? I applaud you for your honesty. I know in my blog, I’m sometimes TOO honest (at least from my perspective), but people need to know they’re not alone. My wife’s cousin recently committed suicide at 16 years old and never told a soul. That’s how bad things have gotten: we have people choosing to HANG THEMSELVES instead of be honest and reach out. Some think of sharing our shortcomings as “weakness,” but I think it shows incredible STRENGTH to be so open about our trials. It’s imperative we share our struggles with those we know we can trust. Blessings on you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Doc MacLeod's Musings and commented:
    Thank you for this post – it articulates quite accurately what it feels like trying to make the distinction between anxiety and stress. It’s a bit like two people in wheelchairs where one is paralyzed and the other has two broken legs. At that moment the challenges are similar, but for one they continue long term.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As a fellow generalised anxiety disorder sufferer, I know what you mean. I think I’ve heard nearly every insult available but my favourite is: “But you look okay.” And, over a decade in, it looks like it is staying for good. As for education, especially guys, when told, they look like frightened rabbits before running off, never to be seen again, To be honest, I’ve got used to the constant misery and the anxiety messing with you as it feels fit. I’ve done all the stupid stuff and done everything I was told. The result: no effect. But what gets me the most? My life is pointless as being under the control of anxiety does not allow you to plan anything! But finally, do I tend to moan about it? Well, no. There are many others far worse than me.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: When illness is invisible, take more initiative in checking up on the friends who look healthy – The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog

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