A Bustle aritcle explores the difficulties of explaining anxiety to people who do not suffer from the disorder, and provides helpful ways to handle the challenge.
Anxiety disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), general anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, and more.
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, roughly 18 percent of the United States population is affected by an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental health condition.
Most people with anxiety disorders struggle to explain what having a disorder is like. Below are some tips on how to navigate that conversation.
1. An Anxiety Disorder is Different Than “Worrying”
People without an anxiety disorder think of anxiety as a relatively harmless and normal emotion – something you feel prior to a job interview or important test.
An anxiety disorder differs from basic anxiety because that anxiousness snowballs into something much bigger.
When someone thinks of your anxiety as just “worry,” they usually think that how you’re feeling can be easily controlled.
In this situation, emphaize that anxiety is not a choice. Explain that, to someone with an anxiety disorder, once the feeling of anxiousness begins it is very difficult to stop. It is a snowball that keeps growing bigger and bigger as it rolls down the mountain.
2. It May be “Irrational” But It is Definitely Powerful
Thoughts spurred by anxiety – such as someone hating you for forgetting to send a birthday card – can generally be described as “irrational.” However, the thought is still very powerful and distressing.
To explain the power of the irratinal thought process, divide your brain into two parts: the rational and the lizard. The rational side understands that the thought or situation isn’t as bad as you think, but the lizard part shouts louder and takes much more convincing to quiet down.
2. Panic Attacks Feel Dangerous
Panic attacks are physically and mentally stressful and exhausting. It may be difficult to explain the mental aspects and triggers, so you may want to focus on the physical instead: tense muscles, shortness of breath, racing heart, inability to move, feeling of possible death, etc.
Find common ground by discussing their worst fears or phobias and ask how they feel when encoutering them. Relate what they say to having a panic attack.
3. Know PTSD Can Affect Anyone
Most people associate PTSD with soldiers, but the disorder can affect anyone who has experienced trauma.
When discussing PTSD with someone, explain that it manifests differently in everyone and that each person with PTSD has their own trigger. That trigger goes off like a firework and acts as a stimulus bringing the person back to the traumatic situation.
4. You Anticipate Danger…All The Time
Anticipating danger is a common theme across anxiety disorders. People with anxiety often feel that threats are either constantly present or capable of arising at any moment. The mind is always trying to anticipate these dangers and strategize how to avoid them.
Your feelings are real, even if the danger isn’t. To help someone better understand and support you, open up to them about how anxiety and anticipating danger affects your daily life.