It Is Not A Choice (So Please Stop Telling Us To ‘Chill’)

Many people think that individuals with anxiety or depression can wake up one day and decide to ‘get better’. That we can wake up one day and decide to ‘smile, chug coffee, and deal with it’.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but anxiety isn’t something that we can just ‘turn off’. Anxiety isn’t something that we can choose to have on a Monday, and choose to not have it on a Sunday. Anxiety isn’t a decision. It isn’t a voluntary thing that we want to have in our lives, day in and day out.

It isn’t a choice.

Some days, we are free from it. We think we are in the clear, and maybe, just maybe, it will be gone for good. But, it creeps up when we aren’t looking. It shows up in the darkest corners of our minds. It jumps out in front of us right when we are getting comfortable. It shocks us to the core over and over again, without any warning.

We can’t just ‘choose to be happy’. We can’t just ‘chill out’ or ‘smoke a joint and relax’. Anxiety doesn’t have a pause button on our minds. Depression doesn’t have a shut off button on our brains. And they most definitely do not have any eject buttons.

By telling us to just ‘relax’ or ‘chill’, you are downplaying our illness. You are downplaying the significance it has on our daily lives. And you are saying that anxiety, is not something to take seriously. That it’s not a real ‘illness’, and that it’s not something to truly worry about.

Would you tell someone with a broken leg, to stop overreacting and to ‘just keep walking’? Would you tell someone with cancer to ‘just smile’ and to ‘let it go’? Would you tell someone with MS or with chronic pain to ‘just relax and stop being so dramatic’? I don’t think so. 

So please, stop telling us to smile when we don’t know how. Stop telling us to turn on upbeat music and choose to be happy. Stop telling us that we have nothing to worry about, when that is all we know how to do. Stop judging how we feel, when you have idea what we are going through.

You will never know how we feel unless you spend a day in our shoes, and a day in our minds. You will never know what we go through inside of our brains every second of the day. You will never know how it feels to be plagued with a dark cloud that follows you around all the time.

And you will never know how it feels to fear for your life, to constantly be in a panic, and to constantly be filled with ‘what if’s?’.

So before you try to make us feel better by telling us to ‘chill’, please remember that anxiety is a mental illness. Depression is a mental illness. It is an illness. Not an outlook on life. Not a ‘stage’ we are going to get out of. And not a cry for attention.

Believe me, if we wanted to, we would relax. We would chill. We would stop our thoughts from entering dangerous territory. Believe me. We would ‘take a chill pill’ if we could. If we had the ability to, we would do it as fast as we could.

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42 thoughts on “It Is Not A Choice (So Please Stop Telling Us To ‘Chill’)

  1. I couldn’t agree more. This is so true
    When I’m in a particular deadly crisis, people say chill, suck it up, move. I mean, what is wrong with you? If you cannot say something nice. Don’t say anything at all !!
    Thanks for sharing this with us Neal ♡

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Believe me: I understand. It’s a chemical imbalance; you can’t control that! I can feel when anxiety starts in my heart and pulses through my veins. Just get onto meds: that’s my advice! Whatever it takes..!!! ALSO: if I can get to the gym to work out, it really helps, too… with the meds! That is the key.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your Concern Susan. Not that I’m depressed, but it’s been a part of life since long and I really felt bad when everyone used to tell me to take it easy, to move on. Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken”.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Neal, I really related to this post of yours a lot, I faced anxiety for a very long time last year and during that time people did say those things, and I agree 100% with you that it isn’t a choice. Having overcome my anxiety by a small percentage , this post really helped me. Thanks !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the thing about depression Riya. A human being can survive almost anything, as long as he/she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. Hope you are taking good care of yourself. Don’t give up 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My dad used to like to tell me to “Keep your chin up”. I hated that. And the strange thing is that he’s had his fair share of anxiety and depression too, but likes to minimize it because that is what he was always taught to do. Unfortunately a distance has formed between us. He only ever sees me when I’m well. In fact, if he calls and I’m actually truthful that I’m feeling unwell he decides not to see me until I AM well.

    Good post!

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  5. It’s absolutely imperative for adults of today to understand someone finding it in them to speak about their illness is not an opportunity for their wise-ass to trivialise the illness and ask them to move on, but to recognise the core message behind such a move. It’s a cry for help, for all the thickheaded knuckleheads out there and if they can’t help, might as well shut their trap so that at least they don’t contribute to the further the ruining of such a person’s life. I strongly support your agenda here and thank you for putting it out there.

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  6. Yup.. I suffer from anxiety and as a consequence I’m often misunderstood because I just don’t seem to know how to properly project myself. It can be quite isolating.. most irritating is to be told to “chill out” or “take it easy”

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  7. It is so damn true, my husband is suffering from it and we came to know about it when we were going through hard days of our marriage. It takes so much to understand that a person suffering from it has so much mental pain of not being able to deal with it when everybody around is busy in judging him negatively. Thankfully my spiritual knowledge helped me to understand him and accept him as he is. We avoided medication and we both are working to not to let it dominate our life. It saved our marriage, It is easier to leave such people helpless when they need us most to understand them.

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    1. Kudos to your perseverance roopali and the way you handled it. This is what I want from others too. If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

      Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend/companion to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, Thanks but we can’t expect that kind of maturity from everyone. It’s not their fault too, people are different and their behavior and understanding depends upon many factors like their past experience,their personality, background and the company they spend their time with and so on.. We all should accept everyone else as they are and need to understand that it is us only whom can we change. Our good or bad doings of past and present decides what kind of people we’ll get around. These things are so subtle to understand, but once you understand, you will be able to release your anger against anybody.

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  8. A wonderful post again. What if I would say, make yourself comfortable with your anxiety? Because whatever it is, it failed to put off your light. Your still shining and that makes you an extraordinarily wonderful person! We are not mean to fit all the definitions of normalcy. 🙂
    Lately, I was reading a similar article on depression. I personally think that making changes in lifestyle, making a distance from people who surround you might help you to overcome it gradually. But it’s not always possible. Anyways, loved your post. Totally worth the read. 👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Amazing insight! I blog a lot about my “downs” yet not a whole lot about my ups. But in all my blogs, I never mention depression, I think I may be in denial (at least to others). Thank you for saying the things I haven’t had the courage to because of the horrific stigma of living with depression! You’re courage in confronting the doubters is encouraging!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This post is so well written and perfectly encapsulates the perceptions, assumptions and judgements of those who don’t understand mental illnesses and the impact on those going through it. I read this at just the right time. Last night, one of my best friends repeatedly asked me on my 1st night out in months why being anxious stopped me from being sociable and why I felt like that. I tried to explain I couldn’t pin every anxious episode down to one thing or put it into words – if I could, I’d probably know how to stop it before full anxiety took hold. I know she was well-meaning but I could feel my anxiety levels rise and just wanted to go back home. I knew her intentions were good & she was just trying to understand so I just said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine today.” which seemed to appease her. Unfortunately, I now feel I can’t talk to her honestly about my feelings as I don’t want another full on discussion. Luckily I do have a couple of other people I can talk to & be myself so I don’t feel completely isolated. Thank you for your post and big hugs to everyone else coping with mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That’s the thing about mental illness : A human being can survive almost anything, as long as he/she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong and you will steadily have rib cracking hugs from me:)

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  12. Exactly right. I just wrote about this same subject (for a future blog post) regarding my experience of suffering from post-natal depression. It’s definitely something you can’t ‘get over’, but something you have to get through. I made it out the other side, and my heart goes out to everyone still suffering with this incredibly misunderstood illness. Thanks for describing it so well.

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  13. Neal, your message is timeless and very much needed–not just for those who need to understand that invalidating people’s illnesses and experiences only serves to cause increased suffering and isolation. It is so important in that it lets others they are not alone. Thank you for giving your pain purpose by educating and supporting others…as ever, you are a brave and eloquent soul, and much appreciated. Take care 🙂

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  14. I am the first person in my family to openly talk about anxiety. For some I’ve been told to chill, for others, they offer support and space when I need it. The same goes when talking about medication. It seems to be a half half scenario. Some think I do it to myself and therefore justify taking medication to “calm down” when in reality, what I need is constant biological reminder for my head to chill by taking medication to reduce my anxiety. It’s crazy the irrational things our bodies do when no danger is actually present. Thank you for your article!
    https://natashaharbert.wordpress.com/

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    1. When you’re lost in those woods natasha, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. I’m glad to hear that there are people who stand by you. Don’t be idle and hit the gym is what I advice everyone. It seriously helps a lot.

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  15. Thank you so much for putting this into words. People do not understand what it’s like to have an anxiety attack or what tiny little things can trigger one. I suffer both from anxiety and depression. It’s like a torturous see-saw. One minute I’m worried about everything and the next I couldn’t care less about myself or what could happen to me. Living with mental illness sucks but dealing with people who don’t understand it sucks more.

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  16. The last two sentences summed up the whole issue for me.
    Also that people who suffer from anxiety need empathy and not sympathetic solutions. They are smart enough to realise that something is wrong and needs to be fixed but that is what anxiety is about. To fix something you need the right state of mind.

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