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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Ellis

Why no one ever calmed down by being told to calm down...

Now I grant you the above is perhaps not the most catchy title I've ever crafted for a post. However, it is 100% true.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, how the things we say and are said to us can have absolutely the opposite effect to that intended. In fact I would go further to say that many of the things said to people experiencing anxiety are down right unhelpful.

The intention here isn't to call anyone out I have definitely been on the receiving end of these comments and don't think anyone saying them intended genuine harm. But I wanted to highlight some of the the things both I and a few followers on Instagram highlighted as the most unhelpful things that have been said to them when experiencing anxiety.

CALM DOWN lets just be clear no one anxious or otherwise ever felt calm by having someone shout at them to calm down. If you've got kids I would bet money that at some point you've said this to them. How did that work? Its much more helpful if you see a person who is clearly anxious or stressed to ask them what would help them to calm down, if its a work colleague for example it might be helpful to offer them some space or a break. Perhaps see if they'd like to get some fresh air.

DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT - one of the most dominant features of anxiety is worrying. Worrying about things that have happened, might happen could happen, won't happen it is an almost endless list. So again chastising people, directing them to just not worry about it isn't helpful. In fact I'd guess likely to have the opposite effect. Instead ask them how you can support them, simply asking if they'd like to talk about what's worrying them is a good place to start, when people feel heard that's much more calming than simply dismissing their concerns.

ITS ALL IN YOUR HEAD - this also shows up being told "you're overthinking" or "just don't think about it". Again totally unhelpful, and for the anxious person near impossible to do in that moment. I would strongly suggest avoiding phrases like its all in your head, there patronising, dismissive and a bit mean. Much more helpful would be to ask the person if they want to share their concerns and really listen to what they say.

Its really hard when someone close to you is struggling to know what to say or do. And while I am highlighting here some of the repeat offenders that really DO NOT help when people are anxious, and are therefore best avoided it is so important to have conversations, to offer support, to really listen and see how they would like to be supported. So my final tip is if you don't know what to say or do acknowledge that and ask your loved one what would help them try something like this "look I don't really know what to say, but I want to help and support you is there anything you need?" and that should make a good start.

Liz x

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