5 Things You Should Never Say To A Mom Who Struggles With Anxiety
Do you ever do that thing where you make light of the things in your life that are actually your biggest burdens? I'm guilty of it for sure. I mean, sure, it's an obvious defensive move: I laugh and make jokes and appear to belittle things that actually are my most unbearable weights to carry around, because being honest about how tough some things are would mean... so much. It would be admitting weakness; It would mean having to talk about something that might seem a whole lot scarier if I starting talking about it; It would mean risking what people might think of me if they knew that the "normal" parts of being a parent affect me in ways that are decidedly abnormal. So I laugh about the things that scare me, and I have to think I'm not even remotely the only one who does that.
I am quick to sheepishly joke and comment about the "worry" and "stress" of motherhood, and even quicker to laugh and roll my eyes over the thought of staying calm through it all. Meanwhile, my heart runs around around the playground in a slightly-too-big coat and a crooked pom-pom hat as fear grips me tighter than my winter jacket zipped up over layers and layers of sweaters. However, for those who know me well (and now everyone on the Internet) my truth isn't that hard to discern: Parenthood can be terrifying. I think it's safe to assume that we can all agree on that. Thankfully, there's much more to it than that. However, when you are living with anxiety, sometimes it's hard to get past the scary stuff and actually keep a grip on all the wonderful parts, the excitement, the changes, the hope and love and snuggles and hugs and laughter. At least, that was my experience before I found treatment that works for me.
All that said, despite the fact that I've got better resources than ever before, I still have to occasionally fight the debilitating irrationality and overwhelming fear that comes with anxiety. My mind still goes to some lonely, dark places, only now I'm able to reel it back in a little more quickly and easily because, again, I got help and found anxiety treatment that works for me. I'm not a mental health professional, but based on my own personal experience I have a couple of suggestions for anyone who might know a mom with similar struggles. First, I suggest avoiding the following comments and questions:
"Moms Are SUPPOSED To Worry."
Say it with me: "Worrying" and "fighting anxiety" are two different things. From the outside, you might notice some similarities, but please trust me on this one. They are not the same. Implying they are the same is not only offensive in that it undervalues the severity and complexity of what we're dealing with, but by saying anxiety is the same as common worry, it significantly decreases the chances of our anxiety being handled correctly as the unique and serious thing it is.
"I Worry About My Kid, Too. We Have This In Common!"
OK, yes, I can appreciate that you are trying to relate. Seriously, thank you, that's really sweet. But please think twice before offering this one up since, as I previously mentioned, worry and anxiety are not the same thing. Painting them as such can feel patronizing, even if you have the best of intentions.
"Can't You Just, Like, Get Over It? Or Calm Down? Or Stop Worrying?"
If only it were that simple. I would love to be able to do so, but in my experience, that's just not how anxiety disorders work. The concerns pop up unexpectedly, and linger for what feels like forever. Regardless of what type of anxiety you're struggling with, nor how it manifests, nor what triggers it (all of which can look completely different from person to person), the one thing that all anxiety sufferers have in common is that we did not choose this. When you propose that we just "ya know... stop being anxious" like it's a switch we can flip, all you're doing is A) accusing us implicitly of being either stupid or weak for not having already "turned it off", and B) reminding us of the one thing we've probably wished for a million times but will never have.
"What's The Worst That Could Happen?"
How much time do you have? Actually wait, no, nevermind. I don't want to go down this road because it's long and sad and scary. The point is, saying this points out the disparity between the reality that exists within the context of our anxiety, and actual reality. We know there's a huge divide there. We know that the things we feel anxious about will likely never come to pass (and that's if we're anxious about specific things at all; don't forget that so much anxiety is a general state of being, not a single reaction to certain thoughts or ideas or situations) but noticing that gap doesn't bridge it — it just makes us feel slightly more insane for how far away from the other side we are.
"Maybe You Should Exercise/Sleep More/Eat Healthier/Drink Less Wine/Drink More Wine."
Again, that's kind of you to offer suggestions to help, and some of these may very well make a difference for the mom you're supporting. However, in my experience, they weren't enough to fix the root issue, so they shouldn't be treated as the end-all-be-all solutions. (And particularly when it comes to alcohol, which is widely known to increase anxiety overall, it's more of a short-term treatment of the symptoms of anxiety. It's not like we just had a hard day at work and need a few beers to shake it off. A lot of people have a hard time not drinking to ease the symptoms of their anxiety, and abstain out of a desire to, ya know, not ruin their entire lives and exacerbate their anxiety, so suggesting they do so might be infinitely more hurtful than it is helpful.)
Here's What You Can Say Instead:
"You've Got My Support."
I can't speak for everyone, but when I tell someone what I'm dealing with, I'm not usually looking for them to fix my problems, rather I just want to know that they're in my corner...
"You've Got This."
...It also doesn't hurt to know that they believe in me.
"Have You Considered Getting Help? Or Checking Out Some Resources? Can I Help With That?"
I can respect that seeking help for anything related to mental health can be a tough decision. That said, I will forever be glad that I did, and when I was in that position, people offering to help and support me as I sought solutions — instead of trying to DIY the situation themselves — was truly helpful. I hope for anyone in my shoes to have a similarly positive outcome.
"You're Not Alone."
Once I started paying attention, I was surprised to see how often the subject of anxiety comes up in my newsfeed and in my favorite spots online. We all may face it independently, but we're part of a wider community. If you know a mom who is struggling, she may find comfort in that, too.
Images: Allison Gore/Romper; Giphy(9)