What Every Single One Of Your Friends With Anxiety Wants You To Know

Photo: Unsplash: Zulmaury Saavedra
How To Have Better Friendships With People Facing Mental Health Issues Like Anxiety Disorders
Self

Pay attention ... please.

Friendships, in real life and on social networks, are rarely easily, especially when one person in the mix suffers from mental health issues along the lines of anxiety disorders and panic attacks. But as with everything in life, a little extra knowledge, compassion and awareness can go a long, long way.

Hi, my name is Becca, and I have generalized anxiety disorder.

What's that, you ask? Why, let's crack out the Internet and find out, shall we?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA):

"Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. People with GAD may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. Individuals with GAD find it difficult to control their worry. They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern."

 

RELATED: 5 Ways Anxiety Affects Your Life (That No One Ever Talks About)

 

As far as mental health issues go, anxiety disorders are relatively common.

The AADA states that "Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year [and] GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men."

If you're not one of the millions of people who personally experience this disorder, however, it can be hard to understand. And to make matters even more complicated, the symptoms of anxiety look at least a little bit different on every single person living with it.

The best way I have to describe my own anxiety is by referencing one of those novelty sweatshirts that say,"I'm sorry I'm late, I didn't want to come."

Because that's exactly what it's like.

You're perpetually sorry, perpetually in fear, and perpetually dreading whatever you are meant to do next. I also happen to wake up with mega-sized screaming night terrors, but to my knowledge there are no t-shirts made about that, and more's the pity, really.

I manage my GAD with medication and talk therapy and I do quite well! At the age of almost 35, I'm very much in control of my own life to the limited extent that any one of us can be.

Of course, it hasn't always been this way.

I vividly remember being a very little kid the first time a screaming panic hit me. It took me years to find out what was going on inside of my own head and what I could do to learn to live with it.

I also long ago banished the notion that GAD is something I could "beat."

At this point in my life, we are like neighbors who've gone through a long, contentious battle over our shared driveway. We each know to stay in our prescribed spots and manage to be polite, if strained, when we encounter each other.

 

RELATED: This Is Your Brain On Anxiety

 

During the summer months, however, my anxiety is at its worst. It hasn't always been this way, but by the time I was a teenager, my summer anxiety (I like to think of it as my "summertime sadness" — cue the Lana Del Rey) took full effect.

Maybe it's because my birthday is during the summer and my birthday makes me think of my own death, and death is a serious trigger for my anxiety.

Maybe it's because when I think of the summer, I think about all of the struggles my mom went through battling breast cancer (not my story to tell).

Maybe it's just because it's hot out.

But for whatever reason — biological, emotional, or somewhere in between — summer is the worst time for my anxiety.

People find that hard to believe. How can you be anxious when there is the beach, and parties, and fireworks, and good times outside with friends?

I'm not sure. Please feel free to ask the chemical imbalance in my brain, as it probably knows best.

With summer time coming quickly now, I started thinking it might be wise to make a public service announcement of sorts. Not just for myself, you understand, but for anyone or everyone who also suffers from GAD or any other form of mental illness.

So many of my friends and loved ones want to help and understand me. I'm super lucky in that way, and so are many other people out there fighting the good fight with their brains every single day.

For them, for me, and for you, here are 5 things to have an awareness of regarding friendships and experiences on social networks with people suffering from mental health issues like panic attacks and anxiety disorders.

1. We still love our friends.

If we are supposed to do something and we wind up canceling and rescheduling a bunch of times, our anxiety is the only reason why.

It's not because we don't want to be your friend, it's not because we're lazy, and it's not because we're thoughtless. It's none of those things.

In fact, please know that every time we cancel plans, we are terrified you won't want to be our friend anymore.

It's a lot to ask of people, we know that, but truly understanding where we're coming from on this one rather than reading another meaning into it can help save so many relationships.

2. We aren't mad at you.

If we seem distracted or quiet, please know it isn't because we don't enjoy your company. It's because our brains are busily working overtime finding new things for us to fixate on and fret about.

A big tell for me that my own anxiety is sky-rocketing is when I catch myself scowling and ever so gently grinding my teeth.

The facial expression I make when I do this often leads people to believe I'm annoyed with them or sulking, but I'm not. I'm doing battle with my own head, like so many other people out there.

 

RELATED: Why Trying To Overcome Your Anxiety Only Makes It Worse

 

3. We may not be sleeping much.

If we're short with you or come across as mean, it might be because we're not sleeping very much.

For me, my anxiety includes night terrors, because I am basically Buster Bluth.

I do my best not to behave badly toward others, but rest assured that if I am not nice to you on a particular day, it isn't personal and I will apologize later.

That's not excuse, but it is an explanation: when I'm anxious, I go into fight or flight mode, and when flight isn't possible, I will lose my temper and fight to the best of my ability, even though I know better.

Because it isn't about knowing better, it's about chemicals flooding my brain.

4. We all deal with anxiety differently.

Please DO NOT tell us all of the things you have done to "beat" your anxiety.

Please, please, please don't.

We're glad you found stuff that works for you, but you are not us and we are not you, and that's part of what makes life awesome, right — our different-from-each-other-ness?

When you tell someone to try something and it doesn't work for them, it will just contribute to their increased feelings of anxiety, as they experience yet another thing that didn't work while also worrying that they let you down.

5. We need hugs.

Please DO give us hugs. We need hugs. We don't get enough of them.

Of course, because all people are different, all people with anxiety disorders are different, and of some of us might NOT hugs or to be touched at all.

So ask the anxious person in your life if they'd like a squeeze.

Even if they don't want one, I guarantee you they will be pleased that you care and that you asked.

 

RELATED: 30 Reasons People With Anxiety Can't Fall Asleep At Night

 

Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. She hosts the love and dating advice show, Becca After Dark on YourTango's Facebook Page every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:15 pm Eastern. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.

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