Deflecting Unsolicited Advice About Managing Symptoms

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When experiencing the difficult symptoms of depression, anxiety or any mental health diagnosis, you may choose to share how you are feeling with family, friends or coworkers.

In return, you will likely get some empathy along with well-meaning lifestyle advice. People want to help, and they usually feel helpful when pointing out how you can improve your situation.

People may suggest you get – or break up with – a boyfriend or girlfriend. You must get a different job, more exercise, spend less time on the computer, go on a vacation, take a yoga class, eat more vegetables, meditate or get out more. This bevy of advice is annoying when you are just looking for understanding. However, it will continue unless you put a stop to it.

Deflecting Unsolicited Advice

  • Be tolerant. Know that wanting to help fix something is a natural response many individuals have when presented with a problem such as your suffering. Most people do not offer solutions to be purposely annoying or insensitive, and they may not understand that severe symptoms can make implementing their ideas problematic.
  • One friend may naturally be a practical individual who tries to fix things that aren’t working. Another might be a genuine “care bear” who relishes opportunities to help others feel good. Some folks feel obligated to help out when presented with a problem and make whatever suggestions come to mind. Others will be uncomfortable with the sharing of your feelings and offer solutions to deflect the emotional content.
  • Tell people what you want or expect from them. If you are looking for someone to listen so he or she understands your situation, say this up front. You might say, “You’ve probably noticed I’ve been down and distant lately. I’m going to tell you the reason so you know why I’ve been acting this way. I’m not looking for help – I have people who are helping me – I just need you to listen.”
  • Be prepared to nip unsolicited advice in the bud. One thing you can do is thank a person for his or her ideas and then change the subject. It also helps to rehearse a short response to give to those who are setting your teeth on edge with symptom relief recommendations. For instance, “I know you are trying to help, but you can’t fix my symptoms and I don’t expect you to. I do appreciate your company. Tell me about your new job.”
  • Explain that your diagnosis is an illness. If you have chronic symptoms, you might choose to educate people that your diagnosis is an illness, not a lifestyle. You can tactfully let others know that lifestyle changes sometimes help with managing symptoms but do not constitute a cure.
  • Do not dismiss everything you hear. Sometimes family and friends offer suggestions that are annoying to hear but may be of benefit. Although you do not have to listen to people go on and on about how to improve your life, it never hurts to later consider others' ideas and decide their worthiness for yourself.

 
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