Why Saying “Calm Down” Doesn’t Work

With all of the planning and preparation we’ve been doing for the wedding it’s hard for me to tell if my anxiety stems from what’s about to come or if it’s a result of my struggles with attempting to even out my mental health.

Anxiety is a huge struggle for me and I find it more debilitating than the diagnosis of Bipolar II.

For those who have very little, or only a mild understanding of the effects of anxiety, it can be difficult to comprehend what a person goes through when the crippling grasp of this disorder takes hold.

It’s easy for those on the outside looking in to offer advice; suggesting the person experiencing the anxiety “calm down,” “take a deep breath,” “relax.”

But for the individual feeling their chest tighten, walls cave in, breath shorten, and panic rise, hearing the words “calm down” only escalates the situation.

Anxiety is more than just feeling anxious or not knowing what will happen next. For someone who suffers with a panic disorder it’s about not understanding where the panic comes from or why the lump rises in their throat.

It’s about finding the closest exit in every building or shopping centre so that they can leave as soon as possible, should they begin to feel uncomfortable.

The feeling is excitement, as though you’ve just bought you new car and can’t wait to pick it up; mixed with nervousness like you’re starting a brand new job and don’t know anyone; coupled with frustration like someone just stole the parking spot you were waiting on and it was awesome; along with anger like you’ve never experienced before and you want to hit something; together with butterflies you get when you’re about to go down the hill on a huge rollercoaster and might throw up.

It’s all these things at once wanting to come out.

Holding it together is incredibly hard and it can manifest itself in frustration, anger, tears, excitement, nervousness, etc.

The release doesn’t make it go away it just manages it.

And for those of us who have acknowledged that we have a panic disorder/mental health diagnosis we deal with this internal battle regularly.

“Calm down”, “relax”, “stop worrying.”

Those words don’t compute.

Because we can’t calm down, relax, or stop worrying. It’s not part of who we are. But we can attempt to manage our emotions, behaviours, and environments.

The road to stabilization is a long, difficult one, but with consistency and positive supports we’ll get there.

Don’t give up.


How do you manage your anxiety/mental health?

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13 Responses to Why Saying “Calm Down” Doesn’t Work
  1. Tracy (@nystoopmama)
    September 10, 2012 | 12:02 pm

    I have had to walk out of a supermarket because of anxiety, abandoning a full cart of groceries in the aisle on more than one occasion. I’ve also had to leave trains, restaurants, movie theaters, sports stadiums and malls, and each time someone told me to “calm down” or “just breathe”. Pfffft. I hear you, mama.

    Can’t wait to hear about your big day! Keep kicking butt!

  2. Mark
    September 10, 2012 | 2:03 pm

    I tell my son John to “calm down” all the time and he never does. So I guess, I never learn! But, I will try a different tactic next time.
    Thanks for this!

  3. Rach (DonutsMama)
    September 10, 2012 | 2:28 pm

    I know better than to say calm down, but honestly I don’t know what else to say, even when I know that doesn’t help my own anxiety. You described so well what this feeling is. I find myself experiencing it more and more and I hate it. I’m trying to work on it with some cognitive therapy. It’s really hard work. But I hope it’s worth it.

  4. Suzanna Kellye
    September 10, 2012 | 8:21 pm

    It’s hard. I know because I’ve been dealing with it for over 20 years. I take a medication that helps me but there is always the times where nothing in the world will. I get all of your symptoms but then there’s the burning in my head that makes it feel like it’s going to burst in to flames at any moment. Hard to explain to someone who has never been there. I’m so glad that you are one of the ones who wants help and is trying to make your life better. I did and I’m living a normal life after a long time of not having any (3 years of not leaving my house). YOU CAN DO IT! Thank you so much for explaining to others what so many can’t.

  5. Leigh Ann
    September 11, 2012 | 10:27 am

    I’m glad you were able to put your experiences into words. I’m thinking about you every day as your special day comes closer. I’m so excited for you, and I hope you can enjoy it worry free.

  6. lostonthemountains
    September 11, 2012 | 10:44 am

    Oh boy do I get this….I’m seriously anxious (for days now) regarding all the changes we have coming…new job/building new house/moving to temporary housing/etc etc etcthat cones with moving hours away from friends &family right along with the everyday anxiety. I’m finding myself diving into books anytime I get a few free minutes…thank you for posting this!

  7. Mom
    September 11, 2012 | 1:17 pm

    My heart bleeds for you. The way you have put your feelings into words really helps me to see beyond the excited, anxious bride jitters. Sharing your perspective will help me to think before quickly saying “relax”,etc.
    I know this is the tip of the iceberg in your everyday life and I sooo wish that I could make all the hurt just go away. It tears me up that you are meant to go through life with such trials and tribulations. I am always here when you need me.

  8. Sarcasm Goddess
    September 11, 2012 | 1:32 pm

    Just reading those two words in the title got me worked up. Those are quite possibly THE WORST words someone can say to me in the throes of a panic attack. Calm down? Why didn’t I think of that? That will fix everything! It’s called an attack for a reason, a-hole. That’s like telling someone being attacked by a rapist to calm down. The attacker may take a different form, but either way you’ve lost all control of your body and the situation. I know people are just trying to help, but it sounds so condescending.

    And *deeeep breath*

    Thanks for writing this!

  9. Lucy Ball
    September 11, 2012 | 1:44 pm

    The worst part is, as a mother I’m constantly worrying if I’m somehow teaching my children that same anxious nature I have. It’s hard to step outside of myself, but when I do I find myself saying some of those very things. Am I pressuring them and causing them to worry excessively? I grew up being criticized and corrected, hurried and suspicious. I really hope I’m not doing that to my children. Thanks for the post. It got me thinking.

  10. Alison
    September 12, 2012 | 12:48 am

    You articulate this so well. And you’re right, ‘calm down’ isn’t always the most helpful thing to say. But I think most people mean well, and they just don’t have the experience to know better. So it’s great that you’re sharing this!

  11. Kimberly
    September 12, 2012 | 9:12 am

    Shawn said to relax when I was wide eyed and bushy tailed at 1 in the morning.
    I punched him.
    For both of us.
    Then I had diarrhea.
    People just don’t understand how to approach situations like this. That’s why it’s important to tell them what we need.
    You rock.

  12. Lady Estrogen
    September 12, 2012 | 11:35 am

    I truly hope you are able to take in those moments of your big day. It was hard enough when things aren’t swirling around in your stomach and head. I think I suffered more AFTER than before… the “now what” blues. Blech.

  13. Laverne
    September 18, 2012 | 5:21 am

    I am very very very behind on my blog reading. By the time you read this you will either be sneaking a peak at your email while on your way to Vegas, while lounging in Vegas (have one for me) or back from what I hope is an unforgettable honeymoon. Anxiety is never a blessing. No one says gee thanks for this it’s just what I needed. I have gone a round or two with anxiety and depression, nothing like your experiences but no matter the degree it is about the management that gets us through. But the whispers, liars and dark voices of depression and anxiety should be scare because they have met a woman who will not submit quietly. She shouts their secrets and gives all their tricks away. She shows the world she will not sucome to their shame and she is beautiful, strong and amazing. I am left in Awww of your strength. Thank you for sharing this. It is certain to mean so much to so many!

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