Blogger’s note: This post was inspired by this post. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for awhile and that post helped me get the words going. This is also an expanded, edited version of a status on my personal Facebook wall.
As someone with lifelong anxiety, there are things I’ve learned that help and things that don’t help. I’m writing a handy-dandy guide on how to handle your resident Nora, who is fueled by anxiety, caffeine, and spite. Other people may have different reactions and feelings about these things. Anxiety isn’t a one size fits all and while these tips are great for me, they may be not-so-great for others. But I’m hoping by writing out what helps for me will help some others.
NOT HELPFUL: “Calm down!”
If I could calm down, trust me, I would. When you’re just telling me to calm down, it further spirals the anxiety because then I get anxious I can’t calm down. I want to be calm. I want to be collected. But my world is spinning and I can’t control it. I already feel like a failure if I’m panicking,
NOT HELPFUL: “Deep breaths.”
Part of the problem is I’m struggling to breathe from panic in the first place. While what I’m hearing is “take a deep breath”, what my brain registers is “you’re not breathing right”. Which further triggers the anxiety when I feel like I am not doing anything properly. And really, when everything thing is Too Much and I am Fading Away,
NOT HELPFUL: “It will be okay.”
I know, logically, things will be okay. I know that deep down. But in the moment when things aren’t okay, it’s more important to acknowledge that then the fact that things will be okay eventually. They’re not okay now, and that’s, well, for lack of a better term, okay. It’s not a bad thing
NOT HELPFUL: “Are you okay?”
Okay has so many different meanings. And if I’m flipping out over something, obviously, I’m not okay. Things are really sucking in that moment and there’s nothing wrong with that. Asking if I’m okay makes me feel like I’m bad or wrong for not being okay…or maybe I don’t even know in that moment what okay MEANS.
Of course, now that I’m saying all these things that aren’t helpful, people are likely wondering “what the hell can I do then?” Here are some actual, helpful things!
Pointed, concise questions. For example, “what do you need to feel better?” is very overwhelming when you feel like your entire world is caving in. “Would a glass of water help?” is a much better question. “Do you need your Zeke?” (Zeke is my comfort object, for others obviously replace with what works for them). “Do you need a fidget?” “Do you need a blanket?”
NEVER TOUCH SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. I cannot emphasize this enough. When someone is spiraling, unwanted touch can make things so much worse. “Would a pinky hug help?” “May I hug you?” Is a much better approach. Remember, when consumed with anxiety in that moment, that person’s feelings and emotions are what’s important.
“Would you like to watch a movie/beat shit up in a video game/play a board game?” These are concise things that can be done. And while pulling myself out of the “everything is wrong and falling apart” stage can be difficult, sometimes what I need is a little help getting over that hump.
“I’m here for you.” Sometimes, those four words are truly all that is needed. Even if it’s two people sitting in the living room both on their iPhones pretending the other doesn’t exist….sometimes that is all that is needed in that moment. It’s okay to simply be – to watch a movie, to color a photo, to each play a game on their own device.
As I stated earlier, this is what helps me, personally. It’s okay if these things don’t help you. We all respond to anxiety differetly, but my hope is that by sharing what works for me you may find some things that work for you.