How can I Explain my Anxiety Disorder to my Friends?
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I struggle with pretty regular panic attacks. When I'm having a bad week I don't like to go out and do things because I'm afraid I'm going to have an attack. Now people have stopped inviting me places because they think I'm flaking. How can I help them understand why I have to cancel so much?
Welcome to the tribe of Anxious people. Good news, from an anxious person: I get it. Bad news, from a social worker: your fear of an attack has incapacitated and dictated your life.
But I can help.
Here's my advice (step 1):
stop living in fear!
I know that is much easier said than done, but listen, what is the worst thing that can happen? You have an anxiety attack and you may become embarrassed in public. Seriously, that is the worst case scenario. Best case scenario? You don’t have an anxiety attack despite having a shitty week. Hell, you may even feel better for having gone out.
Yeah, you can explain to your friends this fear you have and hope they can be understanding and supportive. But I guarantee you someone is going to ask the “but what if you don’t?” question. Now you have FOMO (fear of missing out) and will be hating life.
Advice (step 2):
figure your shit out and then have a meaningful conversation with your friends
Yes, it's time for some tough love. What do I mean by figuring your shit out? Get to the root of your irrational fear: what is it about the potential of an attack that is allowing you to disrupt your quality of life? What can you do if you do have an anxiety attack in public? What are your specific triggers that lead to an anxiety attack?
Having a “bad week” is way too vague of a trigger, because at the end of the day or week you will still need to socialize and live. And bad weeks happen! So what are the consistent themes that result in bad weeks? I recommend a daily journal. Do it for a month and that way you can look back and see the patterns. Is it possible for you to have a conversation with your doctor about the possibility of medication to help you manage your anxiety?
Figure out the answers to these questions. I promise you it will be worth it. And this way it won’t look like you're asking your friends to be accommodating and you not putting in the effort. Good luck!
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BETHANY KILLEN - RESIDENT ADVICE COLUMNIST & SEX THERAPIST
Bethany Killen (she/her), whose time spent finding ways to navigate through her own personal struggles led her to pursue a career in social work.