When something specific triggers my anxiety, I often know exactly what's going on. The other day, though, I had a feeling of dread all day: It felt like something was sitting on my chest, though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. There was no culprit to pinpoint other than my anxiety disorder. It's often harder to deal with when it comes out of nowhere because it can feel like some sort of ominous premonition — like something bad is on the horizon, just out of view.
5. Anxiety isn't always rational or directly connected to what's currently going on.
Intellectually, we understand that our anxieties are sometimes irrational, but that doesn't make it any less difficult to deal with. When we're anxious and confide in you about it, don't tell us it's not a big deal. It might seem like downplaying things would be helpful, but instead, it feels like you're not taking our experiences seriously — which can push us away. It's more helpful to listen to what we have to say and remember that while our emotions may seem out of proportion to you, that doesn't mean they're not real.
About this, Bolden explains that anxieties are often based on something that's happened to us before, even if that exact situation isn't currently happening. She says, "Don't try to make us feel ridiculous for feeling anxious over something. Our anxiety is based off our brain trying to protect us. If you really want to help, try to help us find more evidence in our life to remind us that we are safe and can handle whatever happens."
6. There are things you can do to help.
Simply asking what we need is more helpful than you know. It lets us know you care but also gets us thinking about what might help us in the moment of our anxiety. McCullough agrees that asking about needs is important. Additionally, she says, "Avoid giving advice and trying to come up with 'solutions.' Creating a space where a person with anxiety can be heard, and empathized with, is one of the most supportive things you can do."
While it can be counterproductive to tell us what to do (as there's no one-size-fits-all way to work through anxiety), active listening is great. Helping us talk it through and figure out our own needs rather than telling us what you think would work is a better course of action.
7. There may be more than anxiety at play.
Anxiety disorders (like generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD) often occur alongside other mental health issues. Depression and anxiety, for instance, frequently go hand in hand. While not everyone who deals with anxiety is also suffering from depression or another mental health disorder, it's important to consider that someone who's dealing with anxiety might have other things going on, even if they don't divulge everything to you all at once.