Why Hearing 'Just Get Over It' Doesn't Help Anxiety
Thursday, July 27 2017 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
If you live with anxiety, chances are pretty good that you’ve heard a well-meaning family member or friend tell you, “Just get over it,” "Just get over anxiety." If it were that easy, no one would have anxiety because we’d all get over it and move on (‘Get Over It’ Is Unhelpful Advice for Mental Illness Sufferers). Unfortunately, the idea of just getting over it doesn’t help anxiety, and being told to do so can make it worse. Why doesn’t hearing “Just get over it,” fail to help anxiety? What can you do about it?
Just Get Over Anxiety? It's Not That Simple
If you live with any type of anxiety disorder, you know deep down that it’s not something you can just get over. There are very specific reasons for this.
Anxiety is brain-based. Every single area of the brain, structures within the brain such as the amygdala, hormones, and neurotransmitters are at work in anxiety disorders. The brain can’t get over its anxiety any more than the heart can just get over its cardiovascular disease.
Anxiety is all-encompassing. It affects our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, and it has triggers that can be difficult to deal with. Worrying about whether a spider crawling your way is going to come closer is a worry that you can get over. If you have arachnophobia, however, your brain is going to light up, your thoughts and emotions are going to be overtaken by anxiety, and your actions are going to be limited. Anxiety disorders, including phobias, are more than simple worries.
Hearing that you should just get over anxiety keeps the emphasis on anxiety and the struggle it brings. Because it’s impossible to just get over it, being told to do so decreases self-esteem and the sense of self-efficacy that assures you that you can be successful. To be sure, being told to get over it doesn’t help anxiety at all; in fact, it hinders your progress in truly overcoming anxiety (Why Anxious People Hate Platitudes).
When Told to Get Over Anxiety, Defuse
One of the best, albeit not always easiest, ways to deal with this comment, this attitude, is to detach from it. In acceptance and commitment therapy this is known as defusion. To understand defusion, think of going to a beach, slathering yourself with sunscreen, then being pelted by millions of grains of sand with a gust of the wind. This sand is stuck—fused— to you. You attempt to brush it away, but it simply smears and irritates your skin.
That fusion is what happens when we’re told to just get over our anxiety. The comment is irritating, but struggling against it only worsens the situation. We’re fused, and we’re stuck. We’re going nowhere, especially not forward.
Try these tips for defusing from the command to just get over anxiety and from the people who say it:
- Immediately shift your focus. Find something to look at or an object to manipulate, and think only of that.
- Remind yourself that you know more about your anxiety than the other person does; therefore, you don’t need to get stuck to the comment.
- Know that anxiety isn’t who you are. It’s something that is happening to you, but it isn’t you.
These are just a few of the ways to detach from anxiety and the notion that you should get over it. It’s an important part of moving forward.
Another way to deal with being told to just get over anxiety is acceptance. I talk about this in the below video. I invite you to listen.