Anxiety is… being excited for a new job but worried about driving to it.
Anxiety is… being afraid to be excited about something because then it might not happen.
Anxiety is… avoiding open spaces because you feel vulnerable.
Anxiety is… replaying a conversation in your head and thinking you said something dumb.
Anxiety is so many things to many different people. Everyone experiences it in a unique way. However, explaining it to people who have never experienced it, at least long term, can be very difficult if not demoralizing at times. Some people are very understanding and others think “it’s all in your head” (thank you, Sherlock, I know it’s in my head but I still experience it!) So here’s how to explain your anxiety to people who don’t understand it.
1. You Don’t Have to Explain It
Seriously, you don’t! Your health is no one else’s business but yours and your doctor’s. If you aren’t comfortable talking about it, then you don’t have to. People are so nosy nowadays. It always blows my mind what people think is okay to ask regarding someone’s health. No matter your condition (broken leg, expecting a baby, depression problems etc.) it’s no one’s business. Only you can decide to volunteer that information.
Also, be careful who you choose to explain it to if you decide you want to. Some people really have no interest in changing their minds about certain topics and will dismiss you. Other people are know-it-all’s and will try to tell YOU what your problem is. Be choosy!
2. State the Obvious
Mental health problems like anxiety exist mostly in our minds. No one can really see them, therefore many people make flippant statements like “get over it” or “it’s all in your head.” Sometimes acknowledging that yes, your anxiety is “all in your head” (although we know anxiety can hurt us physically as well) but your mind has trouble differentiating reality from perceived threats, which makes daily living more of a challenge. You probably logically know that (insert threat here) is not likely to happen, but the anxious part of your mind is not able to register that threat as being dealt with.
3. “Psychological Costs Outweigh Physical Benefits”
“Just stop worrying about…” If you have a particular anxiety disorder such as the fear of being in a crowd, then I highly recommend reading this article. It’s much more helpful than I can be when it comes to explaining situational anxiety!
One situational form my anxiety often takes on is the fear of driving to a new place. I can’t just get in the car and drive. It seems so easy to put the car in drive and go where you need to, and sure, it would be very freeing if I could. But the mental toll of doing so is exhausting and even debilitating. Hours or even days of worrying about having to drive somewhere new does not outweigh the reward of actually getting to where I need to be.
4. Explain Your Coping Techniques
Coping with a mental health disorder looks a little different for everyone. Some people may run or exercise, others may overeat, and so on and so forth. However you typically cope with your anxiety, share that with your audience. Explain why sometimes you need to do the thing you do to cope.
Sometimes my husband asks why I walk back and forth from one room to another. I remind him that this is just my anxiety releasing. It helps to walk around a bit sometimes and let myself think. Explaining your “strange” habits can give them helpful insight into your coping.
5. Explain the Goals You Have for Your Anxiety
Always try to put a positive spin on it and share the goals you have for dealing with your anxiety. It might be something simple like starting a daily worry journal. Or it might be driving to a new place once a week. Whatever your goals are share them! Better yet, ask for help or encouragement! Involving the other person in your journey can help them better understand where you are, what causes your anxiety, and how you’re hoping to improve it.
Please leave a comment with your ideas on how to explain anxiety! Share what’s worked for you!