As some of you might recall, I have anxiety. Most of the time, it’s well managed but some other times, I can’t help extreme feelings of worry and nervousness along with some physical symptoms.
I recently started a cashiering job at Ross (a retail store). Although I have cashier experience thanks to Walmart, Ross is quite different. In addition to removing hard tags on almost every item, storing your hangars immediately after you remove them and being timed at the register, they want you to do things a very specific way (for example, you can’t remove all the hangars at once, you have to remove the hangars and hard tags one item at a time) which makes transactions more time-consuming than what I’m used to. I get worried when I take too much time that the virtual clock on my timed transaction is ticking away and more importantly that I’m upsetting the customer (I’m getting anxious just thinking about it).
On top of all that, I get concerned that my physical symptoms are obvious to customers and coworkers and that worries me even more. At least for me, I can usually tell when I’m getting especially upset and am trying to contain it, but I can’t always help myself. When people tell me to “relax,” “calm down,” “don’t stress” or “chill out,” I’m not magically going to get a grip. In fact, it does quite the opposite. Everyone collects themselves on their own terms and those are not helpful or encouraging phrases. I may get wrapped up in what seems like nothing to you, but in moments of severe anxiety, that situation is what feels like my entire world collapsing down on top of me.
If you suspect someone is experiencing a wave of anxiety say things like, “it’s going to be okay,” “you’re alright,” and “you’re doing great” rather than “just relax” or offering them a second to breathe or get a drink of water (especially in a work environment) might be helpful for the person to collect themselves before continuing.
Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone with anxiety, but when other people have no idea what’s going on in my mind in moments of stress, phrases like, “relax” feel demeaning. If you know someone with anxiety, ask them what they’d like to hear in times of stress.