4 Things to Avoid Saying to A Loved One With Generalized Anxiety

Common Mistakes That Friends and Family Make

Two women talking together in cafe.
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If you have a loved one with struggling with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you play an important role in helping that person feel supported and empowered to improve and become less anxious. But while you may have the best intentions, there are some mistakes people make in talking with someone with GAD that can actually make the loved one feel worse. 

The following is a list of common missteps that friends and family of those with GAD make, designed to help you avoid them.

It can also be used in conjunction with the previous article on things you can do to help.

1. Don’t Say “Stop Worrying About It”

One of the first impulses that friends have is to be protective of their anxious friend and try to take away his anxiety. Saying things like “it’s nothing to worry about," “stop worrying," or “it’s really not a big deal” often come off as patronizing and unsupportive. The person with GAD usually recognizes on some level that the worrying is stronger than it should be, but stopping it seems very hard. They know that their reactions are irrational, and having people comment on it can make them even more self-conscious and nervous. 

Instead, try saying and asking things like “how can I be helpful?,” “it’s OK, I’m here with you,” and “it sounds like this is really hard for you” instead. This shows you are there for them without any judgment. 

2. Don’t Solve Problems

After trying to take away anxiety and failing, you may find yourself wanting to switch into “problem-solving mode." This is when you attempt to constructively solve or remedy the stressful situation for your friend.

While you may think you're assisting your friend, often it misses the mark on what could be most helpful, which is being emotionally supportive. Just because someone has GAD does not mean that they aren’t intelligent or able enough to solve their own dilemmas and the time spent trying to reduce anxiety via problem-solving ends up being wasted.

Rather than launching into problem-solving, try taking a perspective that if you can be supportive and patient, your presence and understanding can often allow your friend to relax and work his problems out for himself.

3. Don’t Over-Function

When both of the above fail, some friends and family members will attempt to “over-function” as supports, where they begin to virtually take on some of their friend’s problems and center their lives on being helpers. Occasionally this can be necessary in extreme circumstances, but in large doses, it can foster dependence and can begin to take an emotional toll on the helping friend. It can make the person feel incompetent or untrustworthy, worsening their anxiety. Another way this occurs is when a friend essentially takes on a therapist role and attempts to treat the person.

Instead of leaping into action, encourage the person to get help for GAD, and work collaboratively to manage problems and anxiety with the person when she wants to, not when you feel the need to.

4. Don’t Lose Your Patience

Finally, it is easy for people who use any of the above mentioned tactics to lose patience with their friend. GAD is a battle that some people will fight for many years and simply solving the latest dilemma is unlikely to change a greater underlying problem.

Remain conscious of your role as a supportive friend, understand that your friend may be a “worrier” for a significant period of time, and make sure you utilize your own support system to avoid becoming stressed yourself.

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