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Friday, March 11, 2011

Explaining Anxiety To Others

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of having an anxiety disorder is fighting stereotypes, and explaining the various aspects of the disorder in ways that others can understand. of course, you don't have to explain your anxiety to anyone, it's not anyone's business but yours. But at certain times, you might feel as though you need to explain it, or you might be comfortable enough with another person to do so.

In that case, it's good to have an idea in your mind of what you want to say before you actually have this conversation. Not that it will be the same with everyone, and not that you want it to sound canned, but if you've thought through the basic concepts, they will be infinitely easier to convey.

So what need to be covered in a conversation explaining anxiety, and how can you coax understanding out of someone who may have never experienced your particular dilemmas?
It's important to always keep in mind that you can't know everything a person has felt and dealt with. You should approach explaining anxiety in simple terms, but don't assume that the other person hasn't felt what you are describing, and leave yourself open to an empathetic reaction. You can also use language that implies that they "get it", or calling on universal experiences.

With so many Americans suffering from anxiety or anxiety-related disorders, it's easy to forget that some people have no idea what it feels like to have a panic or anxiety attack. It can be very useful to bring that feeling home with a similar experience or sensation. If you want to elicit empathy, perhaps use a stressful scenario - "You know how you feel when you have a million thing to get once and they all have to be done at the same time, and then one thing falls apart and it throws off everything else you're working on, so none of it will be on time? Imagine that panicked feeling multiplied until you literally can not breathe...that's a panic attack." - or some similar, understandable explanation. I imagine everyone has faced panic in their lives...isolating that incident and calling it to mind can give another person a very visceral understanding of what you are facing.

It's also important not to confuse their curiosity with judgement. When you are explaining a disorder to someone, they will likely ask questions...in fact, you should consider inviting their questions. Their curiosity isn't a judgement on you, but rather an indication that they care and that they are really taking in the information that you are giving them. Be willing to answer their questions as best you can, and if you don't know the answer to one, don't be afraid to say so.

Consider this; even if the person that you are speaking to isn't suffering from an anxiety disorder, they have their own roadblocks and difficulties. Everyone faces hardship and most of us aren't comfortable being open about those things because society demands a veneer of perfection. Getting past that and realizing that we are all, in fact, human, and that we face many of the same troubles not only opens up the lines of communication, but also makes it easier for us to empathize with one another.

So remember...we all have issues, problems, and difficulties. Knowing how you want to approach this kind of conversation can make it easier, and relating your struggles to universal feelings can make it much easier to communicate. Best of luck!

The Calm Cook

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