How to answer anxiety.

What do you say to someone suffering from anxiety?

It can be hard to know.

You don’t want to put your foot in it, or say the wrong thing.

You don’t want to make matters worse.

Let me reassure you – there is no perfect thing to say, mostly your friend just wants to know they are not alone.

A couple of weeks ago I was anxious again.

(I shared about it on facebook – here is the photo of me on that day.)

After a long period when I have not had to deal with the symptoms and affects of my anxiety – the pounding heart, the distance from reality, the swirling stomach and dread- it was back.

That morning after an hour or so spent frustrated and angry with myself for feeling this way, I did the next right thing.

I told someone

(well, three people actually).

The power of vulnerability should never be underestimated.

Healing begins with vulnerability. Or should I say, healing is impossible without vulnerability.

Hide how you really feel and pretending to be doing better than you are, leaves the anxiety beast free to whisper all sorts of rubbish to you about how weak and disappointing you are, about your lack of discipline and strength.

Telling someone the truth almost always shuts down this stream of abuse.

In this instance when I could feel the terror rising in my throat I did the most basic of things: I texted three friends.

I can’t remember the exact wording, but it probably went something like this:

“Feeling anxious today.”

I didn’t need to give them chapter and verse on why I felt anxious, I just needed to let them know.

I needed to know I was not alone.

And as soon as I had typed those words, I wasn’t alone. Writing the text was a reminder to myself I was still accepted and my imperfect mental health did not disqualify me.

All three of my friends responded. And they all replied with something different.

The first response I received offered practical help and truth.

My friend acknowledged that life is stressful and not to beat myself up for recognising that. She reassured me my present anxiety would not undermine future relaxation or peace.

Later she also texted me this graphic reminding me to take a few moments to slow down and focus on my breathing.

She was not telling me what to do, but simply pointing me to something I already knew.

The second response was a poem.

A beautiful poem about the seasons and grace for myself in whatever season I find myself in*.

And a simple word to my heart that I was loved.**

The third response was a message of hope for the future.

Words of encouragement for the time ahead, reminding me of the work I had already done and speaking out the truth that I will continue to walk this way – into peace and life, that this momentary struggle did not undo the previous good work.

Three friends, three different responses.

As I reflected on these different messages I thought how perfect they were.

How the combination of these messages were the precise antidote to the anxiety I was experiencing:

practical help and truth, love and hope.

If you are suffering from anxiety right now as you read this, if the world feels too much and too big and too busy and all you want to do is stay under the duvet.

If the beast is telling you that you are not worth much and that only weak foolish people suffer from anxiety, I want to speak that same truth and love and hope to you.

Truth: You can do this. You will get through this. You are not weak or foolish, but brave and strong.

Love: You are loved, did you forget? You are a unique being of infinite worth and you have a great contribution to bring.

Hope: As you voyage into this day you will move from the turbulence of your present anxiety into a place of peace. And as you remind yourself of the truth and practice all you know to practice, you will find calm.

And if you are the friend of someone who suffers from anxiety and have felt helpless to know how to response when they seem to disappear and withdraw – maybe here is a place to start, with a simple message of truth or love or hope.

Finally, a suggestion.

If you suffer with anxiety, on a day when you feel strong and your head is above water, try to tell a friend or two. Ask them if you could text them on bad days to remind yourself you are not alone.

I have found it is much easier to text from the swirling pool if it is something I have pre-arranged. There is less second-guessing and thinking you are a burden if your friend has encouraged you to let them know when you are struggling.

Hope these ideas are a help to you.

May today surprise you with joy.

Big love.



*The Meadow by Marie Howe.

** This message to my heart was pretty amazing. It was words of love, but also a gift. A few weeks earlier this friend had delivered a parcel to me. It was a gift I was to open on a day I felt anxious – a ‘get well soon’ gift if you like,  a care package. I opened it on this anxious day. This is what was in it:

My friends are amazing.

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  • Raenelle
    Posted at 04:59h, 18 October Reply

    Where can I get that breathing graphic please!!

    • ElliJohnson
      Posted at 11:55h, 19 October Reply

      Honestly Raenelle – I had seen it before and just googled it!

  • Courage
    Posted at 09:54h, 04 February Reply

    Thank you, Elli. This is my first visit to your blog, thanks to a link from Michelle Munt…

    How simple, how potent, how kind your post is … and your presence. The photo of the summer greenery reminds me of a swimming pool I visited when I was about eight … a magical place, encircled by trees and magnificent gardens. To see this photo brings me back there, and gives me a moment of Albert Camus’ “invincible summer” when lately, winter seems invincible both inside and outside myself.

    Three texts to three friends…and three primary gifts, reminders of goodness, in return. So simple and seemingly so far when we are caught by the throat in fear. Truth, hope, love. Juuust out of reach when all we can do is THINK THINK THINK. –> A happy little invention, right now: an antidote to the THINK THINK THINK: for every THINK, a gift, and a breath. (The word THINK in capital letters = the marauding, apocalyptic endless-loop voice from the darkest deeps.)

    THINK –> Truth (What is true in this moment? What is true beneath the THINK?).

    THINK –> Hope. (Reminder of Emily Dickinson: “Hope is the thing with feathers…” and of Mary Oliver, another great poet, who writes often of birds, of wings, of lifting up and away, lightly–).

    THINK –> Love. (One deep, softening breath, a gaze elsewhere, perhaps up to the sky or to a nearby photo of someone we love, to a colour that soothes. Imagining someone who loves or has loved us deeply and who has soothed us to the core… I remember my most cherished ancestors, my true godparents, those who insisted on my essential goodness, no matter what. )

    Can’t help but recall 1 Corinthians 13 as well –> “Love never fails …”

    Grateful to you, Michelle for the link, and your friends for the mercy extended. For the reminders. For the not-aloneness.

    I’ll read more of your blog 🙂

    Love that you’re a “professional tea drinker” ! Perhaps a blog post about that some day? — I’m a chai junkie; have been for 20 years!

    • ElliJohnson
      Posted at 13:27h, 05 February Reply

      What a beautiful and beautifully written comment,and so much truth. Thank you for your words… I’m off to make a brew!

  • Stephanie
    Posted at 05:10h, 24 February Reply

    Elli, how lovely to know that fellow brave and anxious human beings exist throughout the corners of the world…to find and encourage each other.
    I can hear your English accent when I read your post. 😉

    I’m currently dreading the many drives I have ahead of me (recovering from severe driving anxiety that was once a 12 year phobia)….since my adult daughter has had 2 brain surgeries recently.

    There are just so many appointments…. and some an hour away. I do feel silly and stupid most days for this battle I fight in my mind, with the thoughts and overthinking…my battle is really not with driving at all, but the trigger of severe anxiety that it causes, and the anguish of feeling childish and weak. Me, the mom who’s supposed to take care of my daughter ….and I sit in dread days ahead of time knowing that a long drive is coming.

    Mental illness is certainly not for the weak. We are all strong…but we do need each other very much. Alone-ness is never good. I shall text a friend or two tomorrow and have them pray for my drive on Thursday.

    Warm hugs to you! Beautiful post.

    Healthy, Savvy & Wise

    • ElliJohnson
      Posted at 17:31h, 25 February Reply

      Thanks Stephanie, for your encouragement and your honesty. Much love xx

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