This week, I’ve been incredibly frustrated. Actually, I don’t even think those two words accurately depict the way I feel. Most people describe me as a gentle and loving person, but my heart has felt angry, bitter, and cynical this week because someone I work with has held my anxiety disorder against me due to some misconceptions. People seem to think they know how people with anxiety operate, but the truth is everyone is different. Yes, we have many of the same physical symptoms, but ultimately, the way we cope with and respond to triggers varies.
Here are a few things I’d like to clear up.
Panic Disorder is NOT Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Not all anxiety disorders are equal. I have friends with GAD, and we still experience anxiety differently. Although some people actually have co-occurring GAD and PD, many people don’t have both. So, if they’re both anxiety disorders, then what’s the difference? GAD is excessive worry about everything, according to Very Well Mind––ever called someone a “worry wart?” It’s highly likely they have GAD. The person I talked to this week basically assumed I had GAD, but I don’t. Panic disorder is a bit different because it’s more controllable and has very specific triggers. For instance, atelophobia, or the fear of never being good enough, (see one of my latest blog posts for more) is the main source of my anxiety. I’m not anxious about everything in the world: I’m only anxious when it seems like nothing I do is good enough or when my life literally falls apart. Yes, panic attacks are more severe than the general anxiety attacks people with GAD have, but they occur less frequently and are more manageable. PD sufferers know what makes them anxious, but people with GAD often don’t.
People with PD are often emotional
Several people with PD are also empaths––people who are very sensitive to emotions, according to Psychology Today. Panic attacks are traumatic for anyone––add your emotions, plus possibly someone else’s if you’re in an argument, and that results in emotional overload. Let’s a conversation I had before. During this conversation, this person made a list of all the things I did wrong and attacked me. That really set me off because a) it made me seem like I wasn’t good enough and b) nothing I did would ever be good enough. I’m not going to apologize for having emotions––that’s what makes me a human. God gave me this gift so I could help other people as a counselor. I will NOT apologize for the way he made me.
Never EVER force someone to talk during a panic attack
People often force me to talk when I’m hyperventilating. Big NO. Doing that is like waking the Hulk. When PD sufferers are emotionally overloaded, they will react based off their emotions and defend themselves. Therefore, they will lash out at anyone who tries to make them talk before they’re ready, and that never ends well for anyone involved. Let them at least calm down to the point where they can breathe. That way, their mind will be calmer and they won’t become angry with you. As George Tinari explains in this article from Medium, one of the WORST things you can do is become annoyed or irritated with someone that’s having a panic attack. Yes, you may not understand it, but you’re probably also not as emotionally sensitive. Please, try to at least have empathy for the other person. Wait until they’re ready to open up. I’ve been known to start talking to friends after a 10-minute crying session. Patience is key here.
Don’t invalidate their emotions
Even if you don’t agree with the way a PD sufferer feels, do not discount their feelings. It’s okay to offer other perspectives and suggestions, but never say they cannot feel the way they do––it only makes it seem like you’re not listening to them. Also, do not attack them as a person. Saying that they’re overly emotional, impulsive, etc; will only make them defensive and angry at you. If you really think they’re wrong about something, bring it up later in a peaceful setting, such as at a coffee shop, and let them know you’re only trying to help them.
Don’t tell them to just “get over it:” make sure you listen
I was told I needed to get over my atelophobia. I tried explaining to this person that it’s a process and I’ve come an incredibly long way over the last year, but I can’t just wish it away. It seemed like they never listened to anything I said. Instead, they heard everything they wanted to and were tired of me always being too hard on myself. Make sure it’s clear you’re listening, and even if you’re frustrated, do not let that frustration show if you really want to help the person. Instead, ask them how you can help. They’ll really appreciate it.
I only listed five things in this article, but I’d love to hear other suggestions in the comments. Please, feel free to share your thoughts.