5 things you shouldn’t say to someone with high-functioning anxiety and what to say instead

We know you mean well, but please don't say these five things to us.

You see her in the office, at school, at the gym or at the grocery store. She has a smile on her face and manages to get everything done on her mile-long to-do list. She seems to have it all together. You envy her way of balancing her life, relationships and other responsibilities. She looks like the person you strive to be.

This same woman is a perfectionist. She can’t say “no” to anyone in fear of disappointing them. She is driven by her constant worry that she isn’t good enough and that she’s not doing enough. She is silently drowning in her own thoughts.

This is high functioning anxiety.

Chances are, at least once or twice in your life, you have come in contact with, and maybe even loved, someone with high-functioning anxiety. You may be in a relationship with someone who has it. We are driven by achievements and success, and will not settle for anything less than perfection. We are constantly worrying but do a great job of covering it up with happy emotions. From the outside, we look perfectly normal but our minds never stop racing and we can’t escape it.

High-functioning anxiety isn’t an uncommon condition. Knowing what not to say to us and learning what to say instead will have an extreme impact on our world, and we will greatly appreciate it.

Don’t say: Just change your attitude

Do say: How can I make you feel better?

People with anxiety disorders tend to get anxious when a situation is out of our control, which can lead to an overwhelming feeling of panic. This feeling can’t be changed by telling us to change our attitude, but it can be helped by knowing that someone actually wants to make an effort to help us feel a little better.

Don’t say: Say “no” if you’re so stressed out

Do say: What can I do to help you?

People with high functioning anxiety have an extremely hard time saying “no,” and this can lead to huge to-do lists and a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. Instead of telling us that we shouldn’t have committed to doing so much, ask us if we need help doing anything and follow through. This seems so simple, but it makes a world of difference knowing that someone is there to help.

Don’t say: It’s all in your head

Do say: Tell me what’s going through your head and I’ll help you through it the best I can; this isn’t your fault

PLEASE never say “it’s all in your head.” That is the last thing we want to hear. Sometimes all we need is to talk through our thoughts, have someone listen and remind us that it’s going to be okay. Another thing to say when we’re telling you what’s going through our minds is that it isn’t our fault. The things we worry about are almost always out of our control and having someone remind us of that is very helpful.

Don’t say: Relax, you’re overreacting

Do say: I’ll listen to you if you want to tell me what’s going on

Anxious people replay scenarios over and over until we make something of a situation that didn’t actually happen. We could be talking to someone and say something we thought we shouldn’t have, and next thing you know we’re panicking that we offended them and we’re convinced that the person will never talk to us ever again. Sometimes we just need someone to talk through these feelings with because it almost never sounds as bad saying it out loud as it does in our head.

Don’t say: Your life is amazing and you could have it way worse

Do say: I know things are hard right now but I’m always here for you

This is one of the most important things to remember when talking to someone with any type of anxiety. We know our life is good for the most part. We know we could have it worse. We feel guilty that we have anxious thoughts and feelings, which just adds to the anxiety, so please don’t remind us of that fact. Just let us know that you’re here for us and that you understand that we’re having a hard time. We don’t expect you to understand how we feel, but it’s always nice to know that someone is just there.

When you’re not sure what to say, just be there for us. We truly appreciate the effort and we know that you’re trying. We understand that high-functioning anxiety isn’t something that is easily dealt with and it can be scary, so we are so grateful for the effort you’re putting into make it easier on us.

Lindsey Miller

Lindsey loves traveling and shopping, and her favorite place in the whole world is Disneyland. She also loves spending time with her family and cute husband. She is studying Professional and Technical Writing and is part of the content team for FamilyShare.