9 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
Fact checked

Explaining anxiety to someone who has never experienced it can be highly overwhelming and equally exhausting. The process is often complicated and frustrating and may make you feel misunderstood and vulnerable, especially if you fail to express it in the right words. You may even feel guilty as you don’t want to burden your loved ones with your problems. Nevertheless, learning how to explain anxiety to someone you love is crucial. Their understanding and support are valuable and can make your life much easier.

After all, when you are suffering from a mental illness, the last thing you need is a feeling of isolation and loneliness. This guide will help you understand how to explain anxiety to someone so that they can help you out in the best possible way.

When you decide to confide in someone about your longstanding anxiety disorder, remember that you may not always get the response you expect. Not everyone will understand the problem and may raise questions, such as why you cannot control it or why it impacts your life so massively. When you come across such people, remember that it is entirely normal. Not everyone can truly understand what you are going through, and they may require some time to process and accept your diagnosis.

Meanwhile, the following are some of the common things that other people may believe about your anxiety disorder:

Anxiety goes away on its own.

The symptoms of anxiety are persistent and very likely to worsen if ignored. The severity of these symptoms may fluctuate throughout life depending on different situations or circumstances. So experiencing milder symptoms does not mean that anxiety is slowly going away on its own. The condition is chronic and will return without treatment.

Anxiety is not so common.

While many consider anxiety a rare disorder, every 6 in 100 UK citizens suffer from it. These statistics indicate that over 8 million people in the UK battle anxiety at a given time, and unfortunately, less than 50% of these individuals have access to treatment.

It’s just an overreaction.

A lot of people may dismiss anxiety as an overreaction or laziness. Others may call you over-emotional, too sensitive, or even an attention seeker. These negative stereotypes can make people with anxiety even more anxious and isolated and may prevent them from sharing their struggles with others.

Why don’t you just stop worrying?

If managing anxiety was as simple as stopping to worry, no one would develop this disorder in the first place. If you have someone close to you struggling with this disorder, remember that it can be particularly difficult for them to get over it without treatment. There is no magic that they can use to snap out of it. On the contrary, it takes a lot of time and effort to overcome worrying thoughts and reframe them more healthily and rationally.

Simply avoid anxious situations.

For most people, it does not take much to trigger anxiety. Even day-to-day situations or objects that are impossible to avoid can trigger it. Even if it is possible to avoid these triggers, practising avoidance adds fuel to anxiety and may worsen it over time.

Social anxiety is just another fancy word for shyness.

Social anxiety, shyness, and introversion are commonly intermixed. However, in reality, they are entirely different terms, each carrying its meaning and specific characteristics. Introversion refers to how people recharge themselves in solitude, while shyness indicates extreme discomfort or nervousness triggered by social interactions. Social anxiety is entirely different from both and represents a much more severe issue where a person experiences high anxiety levels triggered by apprehension or fear of social situations.

Anxiety is always because of a troubled childhood.

Contrary to popular belief, anxiety symptoms are much more than negative emotions, thoughts, or behaviours. A person may experience a whole range of unfavourable symptoms, such as a racing heart, nausea, sweating, stomachache, and insomnia due to an underlying anxiety attack. 

Anxiety is a sign of personal weakness.

Anyone can develop anxiety, regardless of gender, age, race, or any other discriminatory factor. Instead of calling it a personal weakness or a character flaw, consider it a highly distressing mental condition that can affect mental and physical health parameters.

A peaceful environment calms down an anxious person.

While some people find it beneficial to get away from everything and spend some time alone in peace, doing so may not solve anxiety. This is because anxiety stems when the spiral of anxious thoughts and overthinking patterns gets out of control, and this is more likely to happen when you are alone. 

If you attempt to explain your anxiety disorder to someone, there are a few key things to remember. People who have never struggled with this condition may find it difficult to understand how consuming this condition can be. It is common for these individuals to consider anxiety as equivalent to stress, fear, or worry. Even the definitions of these terms are different for them.

Hence, always adopt an educational approach whenever you attempt to explain your anxious feelings to someone. Consider teaching them what anxiety is in a way that they can understand the most. Following are some things to consider mentioning:

Anxiety is much more than just a “feeling.”

Let your loved one know how anxiety is much more than having a worry in your mind. Tell them how this disorder can make your hands tremble, your heart race, and your body fatigued, and how these symptoms can make school or work difficult. Even the most essential things like cleaning or exercising become too challenging to continue. The people who genuinely care about you need to understand this because they have likely never experienced or thought about anxiety in this way.

I still may feel a constant sense of impending doom, even if everything’s ok.

The family members and friends of people with anxiety disorders must understand that their fears are constant. One of the most uncomfortable signs of this mental illness is a persistent worry that something terrible will happen. Sometimes, this symptom may get so intense that it may prevent people from trying new things, taking chances, or setting goals.

When I develop a panic attack, it makes me feel like…

While many people seem to understand a panic attack, their concept is mostly vague and confusing. They read about it in books and see it on TV but regardless of how much exposure they have had to the idea of a panic attack, people who have never experienced it can never understand what it truly feels like. So as you talk about your anxiety to your loved ones, remember to discuss panic attacks in detail. Let them know how exactly it makes you feel, for example:

  • I feel like my breath is about to stop any second
  • I feel like my chest is being crushed
  • It seems like darkness is slowly surrounding me
  • It disconnects me from my body, and I feel like I am watching myself from the outside.

It’s difficult to let things go.

One of the hallmarks of anxiety is repetitive, catastrophic thinking which can sometimes become so intense that it debilitates your life. Fortunately, many people learn to quieten these destructive thinking patterns with time and understand healthy coping mechanisms to keep worries away. However, no matter how expert someone becomes in anxiety management, they are still likely to struggle with rumination. So as you explain anxiety to your partner, let them know how some things can get challenging to let go so that they can support you in a better way.

It is pretty standard for family members, coworkers, and friends of an individual with anxiety to feel confused regarding their loved one’s diagnosis. This confusion may sometimes come off as the form of a judgment that can quickly devastate someone with anxiety.

To avoid feeling this way, explain how anxiety might affect your everyday behaviours to your loved ones. Let’s discuss some examples of anxiety-associated behaviours and how you can present them to others simply yet effectively.

Cancelling or avoiding plans

Anxiety disorders are incredibly unpredictable for most people. Some days, you may struggle to get out of bed and take a shower. Due to this high level of uncertainty, you may avoid making plans with friends and family members as you do not know whether you will show up for them. Remember that there is nothing wrong with making a plan with a good intention and cancelling it because you do not have the energy to continue it, and the people around you need to be okay with it.

Frequent napping or sleeping in late

Fears can be highly exhausting and may consume a considerable amount of your energy. So there’s nothing wrong with deciding to nap a bit more than others to give yourself some time to recover.

Short Temper or irritability

Anxiety disorders often affect the nervous system responses, making it hard for you to keep calm. This high sensitivity in the nervous system can, hence, lead to high levels of irritability of a short temper. Let people around you know that these rapid mood shifts are because of your anxiety, so they do not take it personally.

Distancing from others

People around you may not understand why you pull away from them sometimes. Let them know that your anxiety makes you distance yourself from others, mainly because you do not want to burden them with your problems. In other circumstances, you may not have the energy to engage with others. All of this is extremely normal for an anxious person, and it is advised to communicate this hurdle with family members and friends so that they can understand.



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