Explaining Anxiety To Someone Who Doesn’t Understand

Anxiety isn’t a definite determined thing like cancer. It’s a mental disorder and comes in several different forms, all varying in symptoms, signs and seriousness. The people experiencing the signs and symptoms also vary hugely, and they don’t have to be very shy and introverted to have anxiety or a similar disorder. Sometimes panic attacks can be silent and can just be heavy breathing or even a state of fear in which the person doesn’t speak, they may be looking into the distance or fixated on some inanimate object. They don’t have to be attacks of intense fear where the person experiencing an attack is crying or screaming or hyperventilating. Anxiety comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, ranging from big monsters to small bugs, but all are horrible to live with. Living with anxiety (GAD, General Anxiety Disorder) or Panic Attack Disorder is only worsened when a person who is close to you doesn’t understand. Having said that, there are so many ways to try to explain how you feel, ensuring a correct diagnosis and ways to prevent anxiety attacks. This post is a combination of my own methods, some tips or tricks about how to talk about you feel, and dealing with it yourself, as well as a few of the worst things that someone else can say to you and what to do if it happens.

Explaining it can also be extremely difficult. You may just want to say how you feel and not know how. A lot of people describe their panic attacks as being trapped in a room as the walls close in, which I do experience sometimes, but I also think they feel as if a huge weight of pressure and stress are being dumped on you and you are expected to not crack under such extremes. It might also be due to an event, for example a loved one’s death or a social event or party. Sometimes anxiety can overwhelm you and make you feel ‘dready’ and down for an entire day, even if nothing bad has happened. Ever have friends or family ask you why you’re not yourself and you don’t know? Tell them; being told that you need to ‘cheer up’ is probably the most unhelpful thing anyone could say to you, and it will probably make you feel even worse. Instead, just say how you’re feeling, take a quick break and then try to ignore it. If you find it hurt to voice how anxious you are, write it down. Jot down how you feel, any physical symptoms (headaches, cold sweats, fatigue, nausea) and what made you anxious. Also note down any coping methods that seem to work; it can also include people who calm you down or any activities that are relaxing and help you relieve anxiety. This will all be useful in the future and for any therapist or counsellor if you decide to seek professional help, as well as explaining your mental illness to friends and family.

You could also try finding descriptions from other people – there are hundreds and thousands of mental health bloggers (cough cough, yours truly 😉 as well as writers and celebrities who have spoken out. Read their own descriptions and then keep these to use as a way of telling people how you feel – it may also give you helpful coping tips or strategies. If your parents, friend, sibling or significant other don’t understand, it can be really frustrating and difficult, but you can get around it. For example, instead of telling them how you feel, explain what makes you anxious, what sets off your anxiety and when you’re feeling worse. Then talk about ways you can get rid of this anxiety and stop yourself feeling like this; for example, if you take a school bus and the routine of catching a bus makes you nervous, do some research and switch to a public bus that preferably has different schedules depending on the one you need to catch (I did this and it helps a lot daily). If you’re in a public place, have a small signal you can use to alert whoever you are with that it is making you anxious.

I used to have a diary which I used to log all my worst days, how I felt, any physical symptoms and what set my anxiety off. Usually, the entries were listed under a holiday; the triggers were almost always sleeping or a family argument. Another few were caused by stress from school and being overly tired, which I solved by doing homework at lunch instead of after I got home from school. This is actually a really useful trick as the diary will help you understand what makes you more anxious and if there are any patterns in symptoms or triggers. Further, you can use this to show to a counsellor, therapist, parent, friend or sibling to try and help their understanding. Try to gain their understanding through these methods, and if you can’t, it’s worth talking to a professional who can discuss the matter with you or a parent and decide if you need professional help. I hope this post is useful to you!

I think one of the most hurtful things that happen is if someone – maybe a family member or friend – were to discourage labelling mental health disorders as it promotes sadness rather than the feeling of hope, and may mean you become depressed as the weight of the label is bearing down on you and labelling you as a mental illness, rather than a person. Honestly, I agree with the idealogy; labelling things can mean you are more susceptible to feelings of hopelessness, but on the other hand, if you are really struggling with anxiety or any other mental health disorder, it can make you feel as if your feelings are not valid if someone argues against the fact you have a disorder. My advice is to get a diagnosis, see someone for how you are feeling, and only label if you are definite you are correct, as crying due to stress when you forget one piece of homework can’t be compared to having a panic attack or being anxious. If someone frequently corrects your diagnosis and it is making you doubt yourself as well as their trust in you, tell them! Explain that what they are saying may be belittling how you’re feeling and that you’re getting help, but saying that your problems are nonexistent is unhelpful because they aren’t.

Another problem that may arise is the complication of separating anxiety from a phobia, or just being nervous. When I try to explain to my family the difference, I use time scale as the biggest factor because I feel that it really does set the two issues apart best. For example, being scared of something such as going to the dentist is a common fear, and you might be feeling worried or a little jumpy and agitated for half an hour before, but with anxiety, the cause of the problem can be unknown, and the feelings can last for an entire day; you might not even have anything specific that is stressing you out, but you can’t concentrate or eat because of the worry. You might be really tired for the day, struggle to wake up in the morning, have trouble with falling asleep or feel as if you have mo energy. Symptoms range from being sick to feeling nauseous to having a tummyache, or being tearful and irritable. I can relate to most of these, but as everyone suffers slightly differently and one person might feel sick and another tired due to lack of sleep, neither is good. The objective of this point is to highlight the huge differences between simply common nervous feelings about going to the dentist, public speaking or taking an exam and actually having anxiety or a form of anxiety; the time frame, the symptoms, the cause and how you feel are all completely different.

If you do have anxiety or any other type of mental health disorder, having those who don’t understand how you feel can be really irritating and also upsetting. It might feel like they aren’t trying to help or they think you’re overreacting, so taking time to try and explain just a few things to them can really help strengthen bonds between you and them. If they are a friend they should always support you and if not, maybe reconsider your friendship group, as trust is important in all relationships. With family members, they have your best interests at heart and might just be finding it hard to accept that you do have a mental health illness and will be needing extra support. Remember, that is completely okay as well and you should never feel ashamed of having one! They don’t define you or show that you are weak, and being able to own that you are a little different and that is okay and you are receiving help shows strength of character and you should be proud.


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