It’s difficult to watch someone you love struggle with anxiety. Having it myself, I can relate. However, others cannot. It can be difficult to understand why – out of the blue – I become completely overwhelmed, sweaty and uncomfortable. Triggers come in many forms and anxiety can hit at the worst times. If someone you love has anxiety, here are some tips:
Ask if there’s anything you can do
Often times, the answer is likely no, (for me at least). But, just asking is helpful.
Learn about their type of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders come in many forms. Learning exactly what type of anxiety the person you care about suffers from can help you help them.
Examples of different Anxiety Disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
Understand what it Feels Like
An anxiety disorder isn’t simply “worrying a lot”, like many people believe. Understanding how the person you care about with anxiety feels when their anxiety is peeking will better help you learn what you can do to help. You’ll be better to empathize as well. It can be different for everyone, (especially depending on what kind of anxiety disorder they suffer from). However, the most common symptoms of most anxiety disorders can include:
- Extreme Nervousness
- An overall feeling of Exhaustion
- A Feeling of “impending doom”
- Difficulty breathing/hyperventilation
- Trouble Concentrating
Listening to a loved one suffering from anxiety is one of the best things you can do to help them. Don’t judge. Just listen intently. Venting and expressing how they feel to a loved one can be a great tool for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder. Try not to stigmatize their feelings. Here are some examples of things you shouldn’t say:
- “What do you really have to be worried about?”
- “You’re just overthinking.”
- “Everyone has stress.”
- “You’re over reacting.”
- “Just snap out of it.” (Gee, why didn’t I think of that! Understand that an anxiety disorder isn’t something a person can just “snap out of.” Believe me, if it were that easy, I wouldn’t be writing this article).
Simply Be There for them
Having someone around when my anxiety disorder is at its worst is honestly one of the best things a loved one can do. Just being there for someone who suffers from anxiety will benefit them more than you realize. Spend time with them. Let them know that you are a support system.
Don’t Pity Them
I hate looks of pity. I’m a big girl. I believe most people with anxiety disorders feel this way as well. Pity isn’t needed. We are not mentally inferior. Most of the time we understand that our fears and anxieties aren’t warranted. We don’t need to feel worse by seeing that look of “pity”. Empathy > Pity
Let them Know that they are going to be OKAY
This is especially helpful during panic attacks. When it comes to loving a person with an anxiety disorder, their feelings come from a place of fear, (rational or irrational), and those feelings come with symptoms that are MUCH stronger than just “feeling anxious.”
Reassure them that everything is going to be okay. Sometimes hearing this can help a person with an anxiety disorder calm themselves.
Encourage Positive Behavior
Coping with an anxiety disorder can be difficult, but if the person doesn’t make changes – their condition will remain the same or perhaps even worsen. Encourage the positive steps they take to cope with their anxiety disorder. Here are some examples of positive behavior/actions that will help a person with an anxiety disorder:
- Seeking Medical Care/ Psychiatric Help
- Making Healthier Eating Choices
- Taking necessary steps to cope (Learning meditation/breathing techniques, incorporating positive coping mechanisms into their life, opening talking about their anxiety disorder).
- Taking actions suggested by a doctor or counselor (Medication, techniques).
Patience, Patience, Patience
It can be difficult, at times, to be around someone with anxiety disorder. To you, most of what they describe may seem repetitive. This is simply the nature of the beast. Whether the person with the anxiety disorder is aware or not, understand they cannot help it – for the most part. Being patient is one of the best things you can do for a loved one with an anxiety disorder. Believe me, most of us feel bad about our own feelings and believe that we are inconveniencing loved ones. Patience is key.
Watch out for Negative Behaviors & Negative Self-Talk
A lot of times, a person with an anxiety disorder can also develop feelings of depression. They can also use poor coping mechanisms that can be potentially dangerous. Here are some examples of negative behaviors and comments that should be taken seriously:
This can lead a person down a very dangerous road. Watch out for those using drugs they aren’t prescribed or binge-drinking. These are negative coping behaviors that can become highly dangerous for a person with an anxiety disorder, (as it can make the condition worse).
If someone mentions suicide or hints at it, take it seriously & take action immediately. Yes, some people do mention suicide to seek attention, but, if you care about the person – why take the risk?
Surrendering to their Condition
Anxiety disorders can become so bad that a person can lose any and all motivation – sometimes removing themselves from the world altogether. It can start small, but it can lead dangerous circumstances. They may just have an overall feeling of hopelessness and, in a way, completely surrender to their condition, allowing it to dictate their lives. Don’t let them. Let them know that there are healthy ways to cope and live a completely normal life. However, they have to want to get better. Make sure it’s known to them that you love them and will support them. ALWAYS OFFER HOPE & ENCOURAGEMENT.
It’s Okay if you don’t entirely Understand
People suffering from anxiety disorders will be okay with the fact that you may not entirely understand what they are going through. Just your attempt to understand is truly enough.
Know that the person suffering loves you and, if they could, they would turn off of all their symptoms and simply delete the disorder from their life. (If only it were that easy).
Not All Anxiety Disorders are Created Equal
I have generalized anxiety disorder but never experience “Social Anxiety.” Understand the differences between various anxiety disorders and don’t make assumptions, as everyone is different. Just do your best to understand, (or try to understand) your loved ones specific type of anxiety disorder. There are also levels of severity to the various types of anxiety disorders.
Listen, Encourage, Talk, Be There
Those are the best 4 things you can do. Don’t patronize. Try not to get frustrated. Just be there to listen, talk and and encourage. It helps more than you realize, (perhaps even more than they themselves realize).
Know when to Seek Help
As I’ve mentioned, people with anxiety disorders are prone to depression. Certain anxiety disorders can harshly affect a person’s life. Know when it gets to the point where intervention needs to be made on your part. Suggest Treatment & let them know that there is no shame in seeking assistance.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. However, I am diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety disorder and built these tips based on my experience with an anxiety disorder.