A few years ago, after a very difficult night, my mother looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I don’t know how to help you. I keep saying the wrong thing.”

I understand his pain. If I were a parent and my child was suffering, I would be desperate to help.

One of the biggest problems with mental illness is the lack of guidance. Unlike a physical condition such as a stomach injury or broken bone, there are no set guidelines that guarantee recovery. Doctors can only give recommendations. Not something you want to hear when you’re desperate (trust me).

Therefore, the duty of care rests with those closest to you.

Over the years, I’ve had terrible experiences with friends and colleagues who tried to help me but said the wrong thing. At the time, I didn’t know how else to advise them. Social anxiety definitely doesn’t come with a manual!

These were some of my favorites.

“You really need to pull yourself together!”
This is what a co-worker told me when he found a co-worker crying in the toilet at an event. He thought that tough love would help me get over it. However, this didn’t help, it only made me feel more embarrassed and exposed. It confirmed that I was a crazy person and needed to hide my condition.

When faced with anxiety, the natural reaction of observers is to encourage the person to relax. Ironically, this only makes things worse. The suffering is desperate for relief, but it can’t be.

“Don’t be silly. Everyone’s too busy with their own lives to pay attention to you.”
A friend of mine thought that by pointing this out, it would clear up my mindlessness. Unfortunately, no. At the time, everyone in the room was worried that I was being judged badly. Social anxiety is a disorder that affects everyone. I knew deep down that people weren’t focused on me, but that didn’t stop the teasing thoughts.

“Why are you worried?”
This is one of the most irritating questions. But everyone close to me has asked at least once over the years. If I knew why I was so anxious, I would definitely find a solution! Asking why shows how ignorant I am. I don’t blame them though. It’s natural for people to ask questions and try to figure out what the problem is. We like to solve things.

Don’t make comments like this when your friend is worried. Here are five ways you can help them:

  1. Work with their emotions
    The main thing to remember is that anxiety is not a rational disorder. Therefore, rational responses are not particularly helpful in times of distress. Instead, try to work with emotions. Acknowledge their concerns and be patient and kind instead of telling them directly. Remind them that they will suffer, but the feeling will pass.

Deal with the irrational thoughts and acknowledge that the person is worried. For example: “I understand why you’re doing this, but I can assure you that it’s just your anxiety. It’s not real.”

  1. Focus on their feelings
    Don’t ask why the person is nervous. Instead, ask them how they feel. Encourage them to list their symptoms. Give the sick person a room to feel undisturbed. If they cry, cry. This will quickly relieve the pressure.

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  1. Use distraction techniques
    Maybe suggest going for a walk, reading a book, or playing a game. When I’m really anxious, I play word games with my friends, like spy or alphabet games. It distracts the anxious mind and allows the person to relax naturally. It’s also fun for everyone.
  2. Be patient
    Patience is a virtue in anxiety. Try not to lose your temper. Wait for the worst part of the attack to escalate before taking action or trying to help them rationalize what’s going on.
  3. Finally, be funny!
    Laughter kills stress like water kills fire. My friends are very good at making me laugh when I’m in trouble. For example, if I say, “I feel like everyone is watching me,” they’ll respond with, “They are.” They probably think you’re Madonna or something. You should sing, we might make some money!”

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