It seems like you’re not really yourself today. Is there something specific going on that you feel like talking about? If not, that’s ok. Just know that I’m here to listen if you choose to say something.
You’re feeling anxious? How can I help you? I’d be happy to run to the corner store and get you a snack or meds or whatever you might need. Or I can leave you alone and close the door so you have privacy.
Is it ok if I give you a hug? I know that sometimes you don’t like to be touched when you’re feeling anxious.
I’m going to stop asking you questions and leave you alone, because I know that making decisions when you’re anxious can be really difficult. I’m here. If you need anything, or if you’re ready to move on and make plans/decisions/etc, just let me know. I love you.
I’ve said before that there are some things that it is just so grating to hear when you’re anxious. I am really not a fan of people who are like “You just need to relax” or “You should try…” See, the thing is that anxiety doesn’t always let me relax. That sentence implies that I, Alexis, am wound too tight and it’s a choice I’m making. No. When people say that to me, I know the second it comes out of their mouths that they don’t get it. That statement makes it clear that they think mental illness is something that stems from my personality, that I’m choosing to be anxious. Nope. And when people suggest strategies to me, I want to be like “BRO. I live with this every second of my life. Do you really think that I haven’t tried everything?” That question implies that, again, I can control my own mental illness, and that it’s easy to control it. It. Is. Not. Some days I work harder at dealing with anxiety than I do at my job or relationships.
This is the thing: I can manage it. I can mitigate it. I can even get to a point where it’s not really a problem for me most days. But it is not who I AM, and when people talk to me like it is, I have a really hard time continuing to let that person into my life. Because I’m not choosing to be this way. This is something that’s happening to me. And it’s hard to continue to have an honest friendship with someone who doesn’t get that.
I get defensive vey easily when it comes to managing anxiety because 1) it’s really hard and I think I’m doing a pretty good job most of the time; 2) I’m possessive of it: it is my issue to deal with, and I am methodical and competent and sometimes suggestions make me feel like the person thinks I’m a failure; and 3) a lot of the work of managing anxiety is stuff that no one sees. It rankles me when people assume that I’m not doing anything because they don’t see it. (**Sidenote: I get defensive all of the time about a lot of things. I’m working on it.)
All of this is to say that the best strategy when someone shares with you that they have anxiety, or they’re having an attack, or they seem out of sorts for no reason(because they’re probably anxious and they either don’t know it or don’t want to talk about it) is just to say: I see you. I care about you. I’m here for you. And let them make the next move.
(** Sidenote #2: I’m lucky enough to have multiple people in my life who talk to me in the ways I identified at the top of this post. If you don’t, reach out to me. I’m you’re guy.)