If you can say “Yes, I have anxiety,” you probably know you’re not alone. But, when it’s hard to talk about your experience, the isolation you feel is real.
In this article: Explore why it might feel hard to talk about anxiety. Then, get ideas for how to open up and start the discussion – once you’re ready.
Understandable reasons why it’s hard to talk about anxiety
Mental health stigma can make it hard to talk about anxiety, and that can show up in many different ways. Here are some understandable reasons why it might be hard for you to start these kinds of conversations:
- You worry that your anxiety isn’t “bad enough” to count. Many people downplay their experiences, whether it’s because they were taught to do so (e.g. by family members or bullies) or for other reasons. Remember that your experiences matter and are valid.
- Having anxiety can make you feel less communicative. Anxiety can certainly make it harder to discuss what you go through.
- You might worry that other people will see you as less competent if you reveal your anxiety. However, many people who live with anxiety are highly successful, and your voice is important despite anxiety.
- Society teaches us that confidence is appealing. It is, but not because anxiety is unappealing. Furthermore, someone can be a confident person and face anxiety. What if speaking up about anxiety is actually a show of confidence?
- You may have heard people badmouth others with anxiety. It’s common to hear other people talking about anxiety symptoms in a negative way, but that’s often due to misinformation or lack of understanding.
- Though anxiety is often due to life circumstances and other factors that are out of our control (e.g., family history), some people don’t understand what it’s like to battle anxiety. While it is lucky that these individuals do not live with anxiety, the lack of understanding–and the perception of anxiety as a weakness–is detrimental.
Now, the question is, how do you get past these roadblocks to talking about your anxiety?
What can you tell yourself to make opening up less scary?
Cognitive reframing is a common tool that therapists and other mental health professionals use for their clients. Positive affirmations, too, can be helpful. Based on those approaches, here are some things you can tell yourself when you’re scared to open up:
- More than 40 million people experience anxiety in the US alone. If I talk about my experience, it is likely that the people around me will understand.
- By talking about my anxiety, I may help others see that it’s okay to open up. Together, we can feel less alone.
- If I talk about my anxiety, I can create opportunities for closeness and connection. I may be surprised by who is willing to talk or who copes with the same.
- When I say, “yes, I have anxiety – here’s what that means for me” I am actively working to break the stigma about anxiety and may even educate others.
- I have a plan for what to say and do if I am met with judgment.
- I don’t believe that people should judge mental health struggles of any kind. When I talk about anxiety openly, I align myself with my values and find empowerment.
- Everyone needs to care for their emotional wellbeing, and I refuse to hurt myself by keeping this inside.
- I’d extend compassion if someone else disclosed their battle with anxiety; I deserve compassion, too.
How to talk about anxiety
There are a number of things that might inform how you talk about your anxiety.
First, who do you want to talk about it with? A friend, a family member, a teacher, or a romantic partner? Second, what do you want to share?
Keeping your individual situation in mind, here are some tips and ideas to make it easier to discuss anxiety.
1. Speak about your anxiety in terms of how it affects your behavior.
Because anxiety is such a broad concept, ranging from brief symptoms of anxiety to diagnosable disorders, it can look a lot of different ways for different people. When you focus on the effects of your anxiety in a conversation, you give others a foothold to understand exactly what you’re going through. You also let them know how anxiety might impact your interactions and give them an idea of how they can help support you as a unique person.
2. Stop waiting for the right time.
A lot of our hesitance to talk about anxiety can come from waiting for the right moment. In reality, there may not be a “best” moment. Instead of waiting for the right time, it’s okay to ask if the other person can make time. Understand that they might not have emotional capacity right now, but maybe they will at another time.
What’s a way to check? You can try saying or asking:
- “I’ve been feeling really low lately. Since I trust you a lot, I was wondering if we could talk about it sometime.”
- “I’ve been exploring some coping skills for anxiety. I realize I haven’t been too open about this in the past with friends and want to change that. Is it okay if I tell you about it?
- “Hey! I’ve been experiencing some worries about (topic). Are you free to listen/have a phone call sometime today?”
- “I’m setting a goal for myself to be more open about mental health and anxiety. Would you be down to chat about it sometime?”
3. Make a habit of acknowledging anxiety in the moment.
Following from the last point, maybe there isn’t a perfect time to have a conversation like this. That said, there will likely be many “good-enough” chances to broach the topic. One of the best ways to start a conversation that feels natural could be to talk about it in the moment.
If you’re not sure when to start conversations about your anxiety, you can create opportunities to talk by casually mentioning it as it comes up. Ideally, you’ll mention it in a “take it or leave it” manner – letting the other person know it’s on your mind, but doesn’t have to be a full conversation if this isn’t the right time.
- “Sure, I’d love to hang out! I might have to wrangle with my anxiety a bit, but I will be there.”
- “Dang, that movie reminded me of some of my own insecurities. Other than that, I liked X part best.”
- “Thanks for the compliment! That helps cancel out some of my anxiety about X. Kind of you to say!”
- “It’s been a tough day! I dealt with some anxiety symptoms this morning, so I’m using some self-care.”
- “To manage my anxiety, can I get a rough estimate as to how many people will be at the party? Let me know if there’s anything I can bring!”
4. Make talking about your anxiety a teaching moment.
Sometimes, you will mention your anxiety, only to be confronted by someone else’s ignorance or misunderstanding. Remember – this is not a flaw, and it’s not an isolated experience. Any judgment someone else makes isn’t about you. Don’t let their lack of understanding make you feel less-than. Instead, make it into a teaching moment.
- “Yes, I have anxiety. Like many other people, a lot of it stems from events in my childhood, which I’m working through. Isn’t it interesting how we all react to things in different ways?”
- “I have anxiety. I’m sure you know a lot of other people who have it too, even though it might look different.”
- “Yes, I have anxiety. Did you know that X compelling anxiety statistic or fact?” (e.g., anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions worldwide, anyone can have anxiety, many celebrities have anxiety, etc.).
- “Yes, I have anxiety, but it shouldn’t cause any problems. In fact, many high achievers and workaholics are driven by their anxiety. It’s different for everyone!”
- “I have an anxiety disorder. Have you seen how differently anxiety can present in different people? I personally experience (insert symptoms here).”
5. Find people who understand your experience
Maybe, you’re in the spot where you want to teach other people in your life about anxiety, but they haven’t reached a place of understanding quite yet. Or, they’re fantastic allies, but they don’t experience this personally, so they can’t relate. This might be an opportunity to expand your support system.
You might find an anxiety support group, for example. Support groups are typically free and may meet online or in person. You may also be able to find forums, meetups, and peer support networks like Supportiv, where you can talk any time, anywhere without judgment.