The One Word You Shouldn’t Say To Someone With Anxiety Or Depression

Take a moment to imagine yourself in the lowest mental state you could possibly be. Removing yourself from your bedsheets to move your body feels about as excruciating as climbing Mount Everest barefoot. Or maybe out of no where your heart starts thumping so fast that your breath hitches in your throat and your lungs can’t get air.

Now picture your well-meaning friend trying to offer you some advice during this time, and saying something along the lines of “Why don’t you just work out?” or “Just take a few deep breaths and calm down.”

That four-letter word may seem harmless, but it actually can do a lot of damage. “Just” implies that whatever task or behavior ― say, exercising or relaxing ― you’re suggesting is easy or uncomplicated. In reality, it’s anything but.

For many people with anxiety and depressive disorders, everyday tasks that seem ‘simple’ to others can be very challenging.

For many people with anxiety and depressive disorders, everyday tasks that seem ‘simple’ to others can be very challenging,

Anxiety and depression tend to be characterized by distressing internal experiences that are not always observable to others. People with anxiety and depression can experience overwhelming and intense thoughts that consume their attention and make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.

While honing in on one tiny word may seem like nitpicking, the fact is that the phrases you use carry more weight than you might realize. This is especially true when it comes to mental health, where flippant conversations or casual terms can easily contribute to stigma.

Language matters when we talk to other people about anything. It conveys how we think and feel about ideas and others. We would not say you should ‘just’ get over a broken leg or a surgery.

All of this isn’t to say that you should never offer advice; in fact, your support is vital. There are just some better ways to phrase it. Below are some suggestions on how to frame your words instead:

“I care about you.”

Expressing your concern is always a great initial step.

It always helps to let someone know that you care about them and that they are important to you. Let them know that you are not running away and that you are there for them.”

“I know this is probably difficult, but what about … ”

It doesn’t have to be this exact phrasing, but try saying something that acknowledges how tough it can be to do certain tasks when you’re living with anxiety or depression.

You need to start out slowly in addressing the things that are challenging and move along at a pace that is manageable. So, instead of asking, “Why don’t you just try exercising?” try suggesting that they go on a walk with you for a few minutes. Just make sure you’re involved.

Offer to engage in positive and enjoyable activities with them ― invite them to go for a hike, go to the gym or watch a movie with you.

Whatever you do, try not to offer unsolicited guidance ― at least not without checking with your loved one first about what’s useful to them.

If you feel like providing advice, it is helpful to ask first. [Try saying,] ‘I have some thoughts and suggestions, but I don’t know if that’s helpful for you now,’ Some people may not want advice and may want you to keep listening, and that is the way that you can be most helpful to them.

“What can I do to help?”

Asking what you can do to help someone is always a great way to show a loved one you support them.

But keep in mind that doesn’t just mean offering platitudes. It’s important to take action to help someone, especially if you think they’re in crisis. There’s a huge difference between saying “I’m here if you need me” in passing and actually showing up for them and asking “What can I do right now that will help you?” 

“I really love ______ about you.”

Get specific. Tell your best friend that you love her dry sense of humor. Tell your brother you appreciate how he shows up for your parents.

Remind them of what makes you feel connected with them, what you love about them. They may not understand what makes you want to be with them or care about them, depending on what they are experiencing. Stay present, patient and persistent.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting treatment.”

This is worth repeating: There is absolutely nothing wrong or bad about getting help from a mental health professional. And it’s important to make that clear to someone, both as a way to alert them of their options but also to erase some of the stigma that comes with seeking support.

If someone with a mental health condition asks for help, offering to assist them with identifying or accessing treatment or other resources could be helpful. The Anxiety and Depression Association of AmericaThe American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are all great places to start. Google appropriate services in your Country.

Above all, it’s important to keep in mind how tough mental health conditions are when you’re interacting with a loved one who’s experiencing one. When you have depression, getting out of bed and working out seems insurmountable. When you’re in the throes of anxiety, calming your mind and slowing heart rate on the spot seems impossible. You either feel like you’re going to die or you feel absolutely nothing at all.

Both are debilitating to the point where “just” doing a task isn’t difficult ― it’s often completely out of reach.

If you need support or would like to connect with like-minded people join our Private and Closed online Facebook Group for Child Abuse Survivors and those with CPTSD. Click here to join

For more information on CPTSD and other issues visit our YouTube Channel

5 comments

  1. I am reading your blog for the first time and this post really resonates with me. I live with depression and you are right about the word”just” although I would not have picked up on it before. Do you mind if I share your post . You have expressed this so well that I don’t think I could do a post and say it any better. I have started a blog about depression called Aergia’s Daughter. It’s very new and I am still finding my way around.

    • Hi Brenda good to hear from you. Thanks for getting in touch. I am glad the article resonated with you. You are more than welcome to share the post just make sure a link shares back to my blog thanks. All the best of luck with your own blog. I’ll keep an eye on it. Maybe we can share articles. All the best. Erin

  2. Very kindly composed from both perspectives of the sufferer and the wanting to support person.. I lost my brother to the consequences of depression and never even knew there was so much to learn and I work in healthcare!… promote and propagate your knowledge and wisdom..your delivery has the perfect blend of compassion and perspective…
    thank you for your words, gives me hope for those who may not know how to be the right support..

    • Hi Taruna, thanks for commenting. I appreciate it. I am so sorry to read you lost your brother. That must be so hard to come to terms with. Nothing fills the void. I hope my blog reaches people and if one person can take something away from an article it will be worth it, Thanks for your kind words, their very encouraging. All the best Erin

      • Thank you for your acknowledgment of a pain that never really leaves when you miss someone you love
        I did pass your blog on to a friend of mine and this is what she said..

        “Advice is spot on. Good reminder for when I’m talking to others too. Specifically I could hear myself saying, “if you could just . . .”. Hmmmm”

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.