1. There is no “snapping out of it.” Believe it; if we knew a magic cure for not feeling our hearts race at the rate hummingbirds flap their wings, we’d do it. If we knew how to not freak out over traffic, or when the phone rings, or simply because we woke up feeling weird that day, trust that we’d take advantage of such a magic cure. But it doesn’t exist. There’s not a quick fix for feeling anxious; often you just have to ride it out.
2. Everyone has different coping mechanisms that work for them. Some people simply need quiet, some tea, and a nap and they’ll be good to go. Others need to be distracted with jokes and friends. Some people just have to ride the wave until the wave decides to be done. Everyone is different and the best way to know what someone needs? Ask.
3. Anxiety isn’t rational. Again — trust us! We know! We know how ridiculous it is that we’re getting panicky over something like going to the Verizon store or grocery shopping. We. know. But anxiety doesn’t know. And anxiety is the one controlling the emotions. You never have to let us know how dumb it because not only is that completely belittling and emotionally unsupportive, it’s redundant. We have recognized the irrationality of anxiety since our first panic attack, I promise.
4. But just because it’s not rational, doesn’t mean it’s invalid.Just because it’s walking a different route to the office making us a shaky mess and not an immediate, tangible threat doesn’t make the emotion less justified. Emotions are allowed, emotions are okay. Even the bad ones.
5. It’s better to ask questions than to offer suggestions. Unless we specifically ask, “What do you think I should do?” it’s not usually a good idea to tell us how to handle ourselves in the middle of an anxiety day. Instead, ask what we need. Ask what you can do. Ask how you can help. Nine times out ten the thing we’ll be most appreciative about is the fact that you thought to ask in the first place.
6. Yes, panic attacks really are that bad. Basically you feel like you’re dying so no, it’s not just crying really loudly.
7. Sometimes someone needs to be alone, sometimes that’s the last thing they need. Everyone is different and even within the same person, anxiety can be totally different from day to day. Sometimes it’s just a nagging voice in your head and other days you’re rendered completely useless on the couch. It just depends. You have to roll with the punches and understand that it’s never going to be an exact formula or science.
8. It’s okay to laugh about things. After the fact! When someone is calm and joking about how the ATM sent them into a panic you can absolutely joke too. It makes it easier, it makes it feel less hush-hush, it takes away the power of anxiety. It’s okay to joke, really.
9. Everyone is dealt a hand, anxiety just happens to be their hand. I’m sure you have problems too. No one is perfect, this is just their imperfection.
10. When someone chooses to confide in you about their anxiety, it’s a big deal. We’re sharing something that is incredibly personal and often really embarrassing. It means we value you and respect you and most importantly, trust you. It’s a huge step for us.
11. No one chooses to have anxiety. No one wants this. No one would willingly have anxiety to be trendy. Saying that and accusing that is patronizing and unacceptable.
12. Sometimes there is no trigger, there’s just anxiety. Anxiety sometimes just decides it wants to show up for absolutely no reason at all. And honestly? When that happens it’s almost MORE frustrating than when there’s a visible trigger. You want there to be a why, but there isn’t and it’s just the worst. Again, you just have to roll with it.
13. It’s not going to be forever. No panic attack goes on forever, no one deals with anxiety every moment of every day. Yes, some days (even weeks) are worse than others. But it will end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
14. Patience is often the best gift you can give. Just be there. Understand us and love us anyway. That’s always enough.
Kendra Syrdal is a writer, editor, and aspiring plant mother based in Seattle. She is on Twitter.