Why “Calm Down” Is One of the Worst Phrases Ever

calm-downIf there was ever a time to talk about anxiety, now is it. The election may be over, but many Americans are filled with an overwhelming sense of dread about what is to come. The good news? This experience allows people who have never had an anxiety disorder the opportunity to understand what millions of Americans go through on a daily basis.

In speaking with people who suffer from anxiety, one of their biggest grievances is the invalidation that they often experience. Well-meaning people tell their anxious cohorts to “just calm down,” or “relax,” as if this was a simple switch to be activated. Yes, there are many things that people can do to manage how they feel, (and we will get to those), but that doesn’t mean that anxious thoughts and feelings will cease to erupt in the anxious person’s brain.

And speaking of brains, (we love segues), researchers have found that the brains of anxious people may actually see the world differently than the brains of those without this disease. In this study, both people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and without an anxiety disorder were taught three different sounds that were each associated with different outcomes. One sound was associated with winning money, another with losing money, and the last with no outcome at all. Then, these same people were asked to listen to fifteen different sounds, and to press a key when they heard a sound that they had previously learned. If they pressed the key correctly, they would win money, while if they pressed the key incorrectly, money would be taken away from them.

What the researchers found was that there was a significant difference between the people with and without anxiety. The ones with anxiety were more likely to believe that they had heard a sound before. In other words, the people suffering from anxiety were more likely to overgeneralize from their previous experience. The researchers also noted elevated levels of activity in the brains of anxious folks, particularly in the amygdala, an area known to be linked to fear and worry.

The researchers concluded that, “anxiety patients respond emotionally to such new stimuli as well, resulting in apparently irrelevant new situations. Importantly, they cannot control this, as it is a perceptual inability to discriminate.”

All this to say that, if you have anxiety, it is not your fault!

So, the take-away is this, you did not cause your anxiety, but, when you are ready, there are things that you can do to manage it. Some of these things include:

  • Breathing Exercises
  • Mediation
  • Physical Exercise
  • Eating Well
  • Sleeping Enough
  • Practicing Mindfulness
  • Journaling
  • Listening To Music
  • Creating Art
  • Talking To A Therapist

And now, more than ever, please know that millions of people are beginning to understand how you feel. That may not take away your pain, but, hopefully, it will make you feel less alone.

If you or someone you know has anxiety and would like to talk about it, contact us. We are here to help!