4 Things Never to Say or Do When Someone Has Anxiety

4. Don’t enable an anxiety-maintaining behaviour

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This one is tough because we naturally want to help someone in distress. We’re tempted to help them by getting them out of the anxiety-provoking situation ASAP.

Maybe your friend feels awkward and terrified of mingling at parties, so you keep giving him alcohol to help him “take the edge off.” Maybe you agree to a miserable 14-hour drive for a joint family visit because your sister is afraid of flying.

Anxiety feeds off of avoidance.

Think of it from the perspective of the five-year-old. If your parent, the person you trust the most, reacts so protectively every time there’s a dog around, then, of course, it’s clear to you that dogs are dangerous. Second, the immediate relief someone feels when they get to avoid a scary situation is so sweet, so sublime, that it reinforces the fight-or-flight reaction the body had just created. It’s like giving candy to a toddler in mid-tantrum. Why would the toddler do anything other than have a tantrum the next time they’re in the same situation—tantrums mean you get candy!

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