A few days ago, my friend posted something on Facebook that shook me to my core. It was titled “Why People With Anxiety ACTUALLY Cancel Plans Last Minute,” and I have never felt more seen. Reasons like “They’re too exhausted to face the world and pretend to be ‘okay’” to “They’re struggling and don’t want to burden you with their problems” covered this illustration. It was simply a person holding their head that was surrounded by scribbles and phrases around the person.
It was as if I made that image myself.
I can’t tell you how often my anxiety got in my way before I started taking care of it. I would make plans: coffee with friends, a call with a client, a workshop for my company even, and at the last minute, I would cancel and then shortly after, ghost that friend or client. Whether it be overwhelm, exhaustion, overstimulation, or just the general feeling of being over it, I would find myself at home, beating myself up, and too embarrassed to call that person up and tell them what was happening in my brain and life.
If you’re wondering what ghosting is, it’s exactly what it sounds like – suddenly, and without warning, communication stops immediately, and that person disappears, much like a ghost. They are just gone from your life: no texting, no emails, no calls – just gone.
Sound familiar, maybe even a little too familiar?
Whether you’re canceling plans yourself or getting your plans canceled by the same friend every single time, an important thing to remember this holiday season: people who ghost because of anxiety aren’t doing it because they are rude, or because they don’t like you anymore, or truly anything to do with you. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common types of mental illnesses, so the chances of it affecting you or someone you know are high.
If you recognize this behavior in a friend:
Don’t lessen their panic or anxiety by talking about a situation where you felt similarly – unless you also have an anxiety disorder. Saying, “Oh, my gosh, seeing my dinner bill gave me a panic attack!” doesn’t help someone who feels panic leaving the house every day, it just lessens their anxiety.
Don’t tell them to calm down, meditate, take CBD or try another trend of the moment, no matter if you know it works or not. Unsolicited advice isn’t helpful when someone is suffering from anxiety, and it’s really not helpful when things are so intense that breathing feels like a chore.
Don’t ask why they aren’t “fixing” it with medicine or therapy. Your friend isn’t broken, they have anxiety, and they need to make decisions at their own pace. Harping on them to “get help” or “take a pill” – two things I heard consistently before I started therapy – just creates shame.
Do tell them you care about them and are concerned about their anxiety.
Do ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Ask them what they need and do it. Don’t offer and then skip it – even if the request seems silly to you. Little things can be majorly helpful!
If you recognize this behavior in yourself:
Take time out to check in: is this something that happens once in a while or something that is consistent? If it’s the first time, be sure to monitor it. If you’ve been feeling this for a while, find someone you can talk to about it. This doesn’t have to immediately be a therapist or counselor; it might be a friend or someone you trust. There is no shame in getting help.