3 Ways to Respond to People Who Don't Understand Anxiety & Depression
I already know--someone said something to the effect of "You have so many things to be grateful for. Your life isn't all that bad...so why are you anxious/depressed?"--and you visualized yourself throat punching them, right?
More than likely you went into explanation mode trying to get them to understand what you go through on a regular basis.
That you're really not an ungrateful person.
That you do trust in God.
That you are trying to be positive or stop worrying.
Meanwhile, that someone thinks that they're encouraging you, helping you to look at the bright side of things, because you clearly haven't tried to do that yourself (insert eye roll emoji).
But in reality, "they" walk away thinking they've given you a good bit of advice and you're likely left feeling...well, guilty. Ashamed. Inferior.
The Shoulds start rearing their ugly heads: "I should be grateful, I'm so blessed" or "I should be able to get over this depressive or anxious episode...maybe I'm not trying hard enough". "Shoulds" just breed shame--I loathe those jokers.
For the record, throat punches are just funny visuals that can occur in your imagination (or is that just me??), but obviously, they're not a real or suggested option for addressing your loved ones ignorance when it comes to mental illness.
Here are 3, more appropriate, responses you can give to educate your loved ones instead:
1 // Have a Conversation
"I know that you have dealt with challenging times in your life--we all have. But for people with moderate or severe anxiety or depression, it's more than just stress or the blues. For me, I feel (fill in the blank with how you experience your anxiety or depression) and it makes it difficult for me to (fill in the blank with how it interrupts your life). I know that may be hard to understand, but I'd really appreciate your support while I learn how to best manage anxiety and/or depression."
2 // Go Third-Party
Let's face it--if someone basically tells you that you have no reason to feel anxious or depressed, they've probably never truly struggled with anxiety or depression. We've all felt nervous or blue at different points in life, but anxiety and depression are their own separate beasts that aren't easily understood without experience. With that said, sometimes it's in your best interest to take a step back and go third-party on this one.
Sometimes it takes learning about these things from an outside source. Julia Kristina does an excellent job of breaking down what it feels like to be anxious or depressed. Perhaps, you may just slide the video link in a text message or email with a little note to the effect of "I watched this the other day, and I loved how she broke this down. It really resonated with what I go through. Check it out!".
Have you ever had the experience of trying to tell someone about something and they halfway listen, but then come back to you two weeks later and tell you that someone else told them the EXACT SAME thing that you told them.
Essentially, that's what you're doing here. Let someone else tell them.
Hearing it from someone else takes the pressure of off you, plus you're letting an outside expert explain something that you may not even have the energy (or desire) to explain.
3 // Try an Analogy
Sometimes you just have to make a point from a different perspective. I like comparing mental health to physical health because for some reason, it helps to paint the picture in a way that's easier to understand. Here's an analogy I might use (although I'm sure you could come up with an even better one):
Asking someone what they have to be anxious and/or depressed about is like asking someone with diabetes what sugary sweets or carbs they've been eating.
Both, the mental health (anxiety and depression) and the physical health (diabetes) examples sort of imply that maybe it's your fault.
If you're anxious or depressed you must not be grateful or you have the wrong perspective about things in your life.
Now don't get me wrong, perspective and thinking habits are a part of this equation. Just like eating too much sugar or carbs is a factor in diabetes--but you can't blame it entirely on that one factor. Not everyone with negative thinking habits is going to be clinically (laymen-significant impact on their daily living) anxious or depressed or plenty of us can eat all kinds of sugary sweets all day and not get diabetes. I'm simply trying to say that, it's not that simple.
If you're reading this and you've asked the question before
First, let me say--it's okay! Chances are, you really care about the person in your life with anxiety and/or depression and more than likely you simply didn't realize. It can be hard to take the perspective of others in situations we haven't experienced. Forgiven! (Virtual hug)
With that said, and continuing with the analogy above, I just wanted to give a few more tidbits of insight on this topic.
We all know that to be healthy you have to eat right, exercise, get rest, sunshine, and minimize stress. But sometimes, eeeven with all of that, people still get diseases for seemingly, no reason at all.
Could be genetics. Could be environmental. Sometimes we just don't know.
In the same regard, for some people, even when it seems as though they have the perfect recipe for happiness (basic needs are met; loving, supportive relationships; positive financial situation; fulfilling career, etc.) mental health issues can still be present.
Again, could be genetics. Could be environmental. Could be unresolved trauma or family issues. Regardless, sometimes it's just...there! In spite of their best efforts to take care of themselves. No matter how much gratitude they have for their lives.
BUT it could be really insensitive to say to a person with a medical illness, "I don't understand why you have this illness. I thought you were taking care of yourself. Maybe you should eat a healthier diet or drink more green smoothies?".
Ewww. Yeah...you probably wouldn't want to say that.
As humans, we all want to know why and how. And for both physical and mental illness, sometimes it's just not as simple and clear cut as knowing how and why someone acquired their disease or disorder.
At the end of the day, the last thing you want is to add additional stress to your life by bending over backwards to make others understand. Hopefully, one of the tools above will help to increase their level of empathy and decrease insensitive comments.
And if not... well, pat yourself on the back for making the effort! The rest is up to them. Take care of Y-O-U!
Need help figuring out what to say to your loved one? There's a worksheet for that!
So, talk to me--how have you responded to questions from friends or family members who don't understand anxiety or depression?
And as always, did you enjoy this post? If so, share it with your peeps!