What to say to someone with anxiety and OCD

First of all I would like to say that this post is in no way a criticism of any of my friends or family who have helped, encouraged or calmed me down. I am thankful to anyone who supports me through this and sticks around to offer words of wisdom. I do know that it can be a bit of a minefield and in a way that’s why I’ve decided to write this post because it can be hard to know what to say. That said some people do come out with some very questionable stuff. So here goes – here are my top 4 do’s and don’ts:

1) Don’t say – Oh I’m a bit OCD too, you should see my CD collection.

Do say – I don’t actually know that much about OCD, can you tell me a bit more about it. 

Explanation – It’s absolutely fine to admit you don’t know that much about the issue in question, you don’t have to be an expert and just saying you don’t know but would like to know more is reassuring and has the desired effect of making us feel at ease talking about it. Plus as I have mentioned before, if your CD collection is organised just because you like to be able to get at that Wham CD a little easier then you don’t have OCD.

2) Don’t say – You’ve not got anything to worry about, you’ve got a great life

Do say – I’m sorry that you feel so anxious/worried, what do you think might help and can I do anything? (NB this does not include reassurance for someone with OCD)

Explanation – Telling someone who is worrying that they don’t need to worry is probably the most futile thing that can be said. I know that I don’t need to worry and yet I can’t seem to do anything but worry. Furthermore by reminding me how great my life is just serves to make me feel guilty and in all likelihood just ratchets my anxiety up a notch. Yes I know that objectively it seems I don’t have much to worry about but anxiety doesn’t work like that. Mental health issues can and will strike anyone  – the tinker, the tailor and the candlestick maker so reminding someone they’ve got a lot going for them isn’t going to solve the problem. The last thing someone with high anxiety needs is a sprinkling of guilt on top for extras even if that’s not your intention. Just asking someone what might help makes them feel empowered but also gives them a chance to say what they need in that moment. It could be something as simple as a hug or they might just want you to provide a bit of a distraction.

3) Don’t say – I’m sure you didn’t leave the gas on/didn’t hit that person with your car (fill in with whatever the OCD worry might be)

Do say –  I know not checking is hard and anxiety provoking so I’m just going to sit here with you/give you a hug to make you feel better. 

Explanation – It must be so hard when someone you love has OCD and all you want to do is reassure them. But don’t! It just feeds the OCD and in all likelihood makes it stronger. It’s a difficult one because of course you feel like you want to say something, staring blankly isn’t an option either. I found this one hard to come up with a ‘do say’   – most likely because I’m coming from the perspective of someone with OCD so if anyone’s got any other suggestions for this I’d be happy to hear them.

4) Don’t say – I think you’re giving the anxiety/OCD too much power

Do say – Anxiety/OCD are little sneaks and you’re going to kick their ass. I know you’re doing everything you can and I think you’re amazing. 

Explanation – This has been said to me and I know it comes from a well-intentioned place but it has me wanting to scream. It has the unfortunate effect of making the person feel that they’re not trying ‘hard enough’ so more than once this has elicited me wailing and sobbing “I’m tryyyyiiiiiinnnggg”. I do understand the sentiment behind it but when I’m in the throes of feeling highly anxious and with a team of OCD thoughts waging war in my head with bells on and waving maracas I’m sorry if I find it a little overwhelming. Please do say to the anxiety/OCD sufferer that they’re doing an amazing job, that they’re brave and inspirational.

So what about you? What have people said to you that you’ve found useful and perhaps not so helpful?

6 thoughts on “What to say to someone with anxiety and OCD

  1. I’m other over it or in remission. Initially, I kept checking the stove to see if it was off. I checked the front door over and over. These repetitions were time consuming and maddening. I also collected stuff. I still collect stuff.

    • Hi Sheryl,

      That’s great that you’ve conquered the very frustrating compulsions! It gives me hope that it can be done… I made my way to your blog following your comment on mine and I’m really enjoying reading your writing 🙂 Emily

      • Thank you, Emily! I liked your article too. I once heard the late Dr. James Kennedy (a Baptist minister in FL) give a sermon about “Making Lemonade out of Lemons,” and that gave me the idea about OCD and writing. By the way, your writing is excellent and your sensitivity and kindness come through. Keep writing. I’ll follow your blog. Blessings!

  2. Pingback: Make the Most of OCD: Write a Novel | THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER: A Modern Gothic Romance

  3. Pingback: The Dos and Don’ts of Learning to Say “Yes” | Positively Smitten

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