When you have anxiety, well-meaning people say things all the time that aren't helpful. "Just try to relax." I am, trust me. "Don't worry so much!" I wish I didn't. It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't suffer from anxiety what it's like. Put simply, you cannot just switch these feelings on and off like a light. It takes a lot of work (practice, therapy, and self-acceptance) to coexist peacefully with my near-constant sense of worry. That being said, my husband has stumbled upon one thing to say to help me calm my frayed nerves, clear my cloudy thoughts, and get back on the path toward seeing a situation clearly: "You are stronger than you think."
This empowering statement helps me frame whatever I'm worrying about in the context of what I've been through. Because I didn't always suffer from anxiety. It started after losing a baby late in pregnancy due to a totally unexpected, traumatic set of circumstances. That life-altering experience felt like a shock to my system and turned my world upside down. Looking back, it's no wonder I began struggling with suffocating anxiety. Triggers were everywhere. Simple tasks like going out for coffee became mountains to climb as my worries raced out of control: What if I ran into someone who knew what happened? What if they said something? What if I fell apart in public?
As I alluded to before, I got help to deal with my anxiety. In addition to talking to a therapist, I turned to yoga and meditation to help process my grief and cope with my constant worries. Two years after the loss, I am much, much better — but I still worry a lot. Small concerns can add up to feel insurmountable really quickly. Say I have a lot on my plate with work and family obligations. If my husband were to attempt to calm my stress by saying (as he did in the past), "Everything will be OK," that only serves to heighten my anxiety. Because sometimes, everything isn't OK, as I learned the hard way. Things don't always work out for the best, no matter how much you want them to. It's a slippery slope to an anxiety attack.
When my anxiety leaves me feeling breathless and fuzzy, my husband simply says, "You are stronger than you think."
After much trial and error, when my anxiety leaves me feeling breathless and fuzzy, my husband simply says, "You are stronger than you think." I'll start to remember everything we've been through and how far I've come. I'll recall the time right after our loss, when I'd finally convinced myself it was alright to go outside to get my mail, and then a neighbor asked me when I was due, leveling me for the day. I'll remind myself that if I survived a moment like that, I can handle a work deadline or a few family members coming to stay with us. I'll tell myself that my husband is right. I am strong. And I can get through this challenging situation, whatever it is.
This particular statement may not work for everyone, as anxiety looks and feels different for each person. But it's worthwhile to work with someone in your life — a partner, friend, or family member — to identify something that helps quell your nerves. Perhaps it's, "You are safe." Or maybe it's telling them that they are supported. (Those things work for me, too!) No matter the exact words, we all need that support from time to time.