wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

What Does An Anxious Person Look Like?

One of the most common remarks I hear when talking about mental health is, “you don’t look like you have social anxiety.” Or, “but you’re always so happy.” It’s not something I take offence to, because it’s meant with curiosity and I suppose in some ways, a compliment. “Oh wow, you don’t seem crazy at all!”I think they expect me to be rocking in a corner somewhere, clutching a bottle of vodka. (Which, for the record I would never do… because I hate vodka, and besides if I was clutching anything it’d be Rigby and a bottle of champagne).

However, it also highlights a genuine problem – MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS. Or rather the lack of it.

At some point in life most people are likely to experience a mental or emotional issue. Yet, unlike a physical condition, it’s harder to spot. (If you came into work with blood pouring out of your nose, or a casserole tin on your head, people will notice and offer assistance.) Furthermore, long-term sufferers become very good at hiding their issues. I was a high functioning anxiety case for years, it just became something that I carried with me, the tiger with its claws in my back. I may have been smiling and ‘happy,’ but that didn’t mean there wasn’t fear in my eyes, or pain behind me smile.
It was a communication issue, I didn’t feel as though I could be honest about how I was feeling.

Ignorance isn’t a crime and although it’s difficult not to get frustrated when someone makes a sweeping statement, I find that taking the time to explain how anxiety effects me is more beneficial. I prefer friendly discussion, rather than to punch them in the face start a confrontation.

Top tips

  • Stay calm. Don’t assume that they mean offence. Sometimes we (people in general), say things without thinking.
  • Be honest. If someone says “You seem so happy,” I normally reply, “well as with any condition I have good days and bad days. I am happy, but there are times when I struggle too.”
  • Make physical comparisons. E.g. “Anxiety is like a headache. Nobody would know you’re in pain unless you tell them.” Examples make things easier to understand.
  • Use humour. E.g. “I suppose it’d be more obvious if I had steam coming out of my ears!” This will help to diffuse any awkwardness, but also politely make it clear that their remark is silly.

If the person continues to make statements that you feel are inappropriate, then you’re well within your rights to call them out.

I’m hopeful that one day mental health awareness will become universal. But for now, we have to breathe, smile and educate.

Time to Change have a useful Myths/facts section on their website that I encourage people to read.



Categories: Advice for care givers, Anxiety, Social Anxiety

8 replies

  1. VERY useful post, thanks lovely! I’m going to pocket this tip: ‘Anxiety is like a headache. Nobody would know you’re in pain unless you tell them.’ When I travelled around the world, I had people flat out refuse to believe I had anxiety or was introverted. Because I knew how to manage it, and remove myself quietly from situations that were too much without anyone knowing anything was wrong. I don’t know why people look so hard for PHYSICAL signs of mental illness, when it’s mostly a mental thing…Anywho, this is a great little list of tips. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 xx

  2. Anxiety can be the straight A student in class, the successful project manager for a Fortune 500 company, the mom holding it together in the grocery store with two fussy kids. Anxiety wears no single face, though the one it wears on me has a beard. Thanks for sharing your words.

  3. This is a great point, Claire. Even as someone who suffers from anxiety, when I look at ANYONE else (whether they have anxiety or not) I presume that they are dealing with everything way better than I ever could. It’s very hard to see into someone’s brain even when you can empathise with their condition. Thanks for the tips! Kate

  4. It can be handy too! I think when you suffer from anxiety you do sometimes recognise it in other folks even when they are wearing the hidey smiley mask. I think there are more than we imagine! xx

  5. I love this. I get told this a lot even by those who know a lot about mental health. I think the other thing people don’t realise is that in addition to hiding it well in plain sight, on the *really* bad days we might just outright hide.

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