What do you say to someone suffering from anxiety?
It can be hard to know.
You don’t want to put your foot in it, or say the wrong thing.
You don’t want to make matters worse.
Let me reassure you – there is no perfect thing to say, mostly your friend just wants to know they are not alone.
A couple of weeks ago I was anxious again.
(I shared about it on facebook – here is the photo of me on that day.)
After a long period when I have not had to deal with the symptoms and affects of my anxiety – the pounding heart, the distance from reality, the swirling stomach and dread- it was back.
That morning after an hour or so spent frustrated and angry with myself for feeling this way, I did the next right thing.
I told someone
(well, three people actually).
The power of vulnerability should never be underestimated.
Healing begins with vulnerability. Or should I say, healing is impossible without vulnerability.
Hide how you really feel and pretending to be doing better than you are, leaves the anxiety beast free to whisper all sorts of rubbish to you about how weak and disappointing you are, about your lack of discipline and strength.
Telling someone the truth almost always shuts down this stream of abuse.
In this instance when I could feel the terror rising in my throat I did the most basic of things: I texted three friends.
I can’t remember the exact wording, but it probably went something like this:
“Feeling anxious today.”
I didn’t need to give them chapter and verse on why I felt anxious, I just needed to let them know.
I needed to know I was not alone.
And as soon as I had typed those words, I wasn’t alone. Writing the text was a reminder to myself I was still accepted and my imperfect mental health did not disqualify me.
All three of my friends responded. And they all replied with something different.
The first response I received offered practical help and truth.
My friend acknowledged that life is stressful and not to beat myself up for recognising that. She reassured me my present anxiety would not undermine future relaxation or peace.
Later she also texted me this graphic reminding me to take a few moments to slow down and focus on my breathing.
She was not telling me what to do, but simply pointing me to something I already knew.
The second response was a poem.
A beautiful poem about the seasons and grace for myself in whatever season I find myself in*.
And a simple word to my heart that I was loved.**
The third response was a message of hope for the future.
Words of encouragement for the time ahead, reminding me of the work I had already done and speaking out the truth that I will continue to walk this way – into peace and life, that this momentary struggle did not undo the previous good work.
Three friends, three different responses.
As I reflected on these different messages I thought how perfect they were.
How the combination of these messages were the precise antidote to the anxiety I was experiencing:
practical help and truth, love and hope.
If you are suffering from anxiety right now as you read this, if the world feels too much and too big and too busy and all you want to do is stay under the duvet.
If the beast is telling you that you are not worth much and that only weak foolish people suffer from anxiety, I want to speak that same truth and love and hope to you.
Truth: You can do this. You will get through this. You are not weak or foolish, but brave and strong.
Love: You are loved, did you forget? You are a unique being of infinite worth and you have a great contribution to bring.
Hope: As you voyage into this day you will move from the turbulence of your present anxiety into a place of peace. And as you remind yourself of the truth and practice all you know to practice, you will find calm.
And if you are the friend of someone who suffers from anxiety and have felt helpless to know how to response when they seem to disappear and withdraw – maybe here is a place to start, with a simple message of truth or love or hope.
Finally, a suggestion.
If you suffer with anxiety, on a day when you feel strong and your head is above water, try to tell a friend or two. Ask them if you could text them on bad days to remind yourself you are not alone.
I have found it is much easier to text from the swirling pool if it is something I have pre-arranged. There is less second-guessing and thinking you are a burden if your friend has encouraged you to let them know when you are struggling.
Hope these ideas are a help to you.
May today surprise you with joy.
*The Meadow by Marie Howe.
** This message to my heart was pretty amazing. It was words of love, but also a gift. A few weeks earlier this friend had delivered a parcel to me. It was a gift I was to open on a day I felt anxious – a ‘get well soon’ gift if you like, a care package. I opened it on this anxious day. This is what was in it:
My friends are amazing.
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