Living with anxiety can be an isolating and exhausting experience. A person with an anxiety disorder can feel like they’re constantly overwhelmed – with outside stimuli, racing thoughts, or worries about the future. The scarier the world feels to them, the more alone they can feel. That’s why it’s so important to have supportive friends and family who can ground them in reality and offer nothing but love and care. Here are 10 things you can try to help a loved one suffering from anxiety.
1. Learn as much as you can
Your first step should be to get educated about anxiety disorders. People can brush anxiety off as someone just being “nervous”, but the actual diagnosis is a lot more involved. Individuals with clinical anxiety disorders have symptoms that manifest both physically and emotionally and are strong enough to interfere with their daily life. To make sure you’re as informed as possible, read up on anxiety by checking out some nonfiction books on the subject or doing an Internet search (stick to reputable sites like MayoClinic.org or NAMI.org). It can also be helpful to read firsthand accounts of people who live with anxiety to get a true feel for what they’re experiencing. Try sites like TheMighty.com for these kinds of articles.
2. Know how to recognize the symptoms
There’s a wide variety of ways that anxiety can manifest, since it can vary from person to person. However, it can be helpful for you to be able to recognize the symptoms so that you can help your loved one right away. Here’s a list of some common symptoms:
- Excessive worry
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling on edge
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mind going blank
- Decreased memory
Individuals with anxiety disorders can experience more than one of these at a time or go back and forth between several symptoms. People with anxiety disorders can also experience panic attacks. These symptoms can lead to more severe issues, such as developing phobias or displaying obsessive or compulsive behaviors. Additionally, your loved one might start to avoid certain situations that worsen their anxiety or face distress when they’re in social situations.
3. Help them through their physical symptoms
Because someone with an anxiety disorder can also experience many physical symptoms, it’s important that you can recognize these symptoms as well. They can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Stomach pains
Try to be supportive when your loved one is experiencing any of these things. You can make small gestures by acknowledging how they’re feeling and offering to help any way you can (making a cup of tea, getting them some Tylenol, etc.). Never tell them that their physical symptoms must just be in their head – the body reacts to panic and anxiety in a very real, tangible way, and this is what they’re experiencing.
4. Never minimize or dismiss
One of the most crucial elements of being a supportive person is remembering to never minimize or dismiss how they’re feeling. Always acknowledge their distress – even if you don’t fully understand it. Letting them know that you recognize how awful they must be feeling can help them feel validated.
5. Be sensitive with your comments
Really think through what you’re going to say before you say it. This hesitance can help you stay supportive to those living with anxiety without rushing to “fix” them. Avoid saying things like:
- “There’s nothing to worry about.”
- “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
- “Just let it go.”
- “Just stop thinking about it.”
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “You need to calm down.”
- “Just push through it.”
- “Suck it up.”
These comments can feel judgmental and harsh to someone who’s just trying to do the best they can in very difficult circumstances. Try to stick with acknowledging their feelings instead of judging their process.
6. Be there to listen
Helping your loved one can be as simple as just showing up to listen to them. Whether you’re calling them to chat or having an in-person conversation, your job is to listen to whatever they’re going through. This means that you completely support them without any kind of judgment or suggestions to remedy the issue. Listening without taking some sort of action to change them can be just what they need to feel cared for and understood. Also, this is why emotional support animals can be so effective in helping with anxiety – animals can be great companions without trying to fix or judge their owners.
7. Encourage them to get professional help
As much as you want to help your loved one, they might need professional help to really deal with their symptoms. Encourage them to seek out help from a therapist or psychiatrist who can help them learn to alleviate or better manage their symptoms (or in some cases, prescribe medications to treat more severe symptoms). If your loved one is resistant to seeking treatment, just keep reminding them that professional help is out there – and that it could be the very best way for them to heal.
8. Offer your time
Being supportive can sometimes look like you just offering your time to your loved one. Whether you volunteer to drive them to therapy appointments or help them run errands, your loved one will get the message that you care and that you’re willing to help in whatever way you can. This can help them feel less isolated and alone as well.
9. Engage in activities that help with anxiety
There are a number of activities that can help alleviate anxiety, including yoga, meditation, walking, and mindfulness exercises. If you participate in these activities too, your loved one will have more motivation to take part. Just refrain from feeling frustrated if they don’t always feel up to tackling these activities – let them know that you’re available if or when they want to try anything out.
10. Take care of yourself too
Anytime you care for a loved one with anxiety (or with any type of mental illness), you can end up getting burned out. It’s so crucial for you to schedule enough self-care time so that you can take care of yourself as well as your loved one. You won’t be able to help a loved one with anxiety at all if you’re too exhausted or mentally drained to function.
Your loved one simply needs your support and love, so try out these techniques to help them get what they need to better fight their anxiety disorder.