Practical tips for helping someone with anxiety.
Dealing with intense and persistent feelings of anxiety can be overwhelming, both for the person experiencing these feelings and for those close to them.
If your loved ones are living with an anxiety disorder, you might often find yourself concerned about supporting them. Feeling helpless is not uncommon either, as your efforts might not always get through to the other person. People with anxiety often feel so overwhelmed by their fears and thoughts that they don’t know how to receive the help they’re being offered or don’t believe anything can help them.
What can I do?
Being the support person for someone dealing with anxiety is not an easy job. However, there are some things that usually help:
- Get informed, learn about anxiety and how it works, what generally helps and what doesn’t.
- Encourage and support the person to seek help. Assist them in contacting a specialist, drive them to the first therapy session, or even join them in the session.
- If it’s the case, check for couple- or family-based therapies, where you can actively take part in the treatment. Alternatively, offer your support and company for implementing certain steps or activities, such as exercising or doing meditation together. Show interest in their therapy process by asking what they are learning and how they are feeling with it.
- Appreciate efforts and positive behaviours and don’t criticise the person for avoiding or worrying. Understand that the person is doing the best they can to manage their crippling fear and these are the best strategies the person has at hand right now. If they knew how to do things in a healthier way, they would definitely do it.
- Be patient, learning how to handle anxiety may take some time for different people. Watch out for your own discomfort with their experience. Often times, the uncomfortable feeling with the patient’s suffering makes us pressure them into changing. We offer advice, solutions or urge people to confront their fears when they don’t feel ready just yet. This can make them feel even more helpless.
- Create a safe space for the person to open up without fearing judgment. Let them know that you don’t see their anxiety as a weakness and be there without trying to fix or change the person’s thinking. Each person’s experience with anxiety is different. Acknowledge that you might not understand what they’re going through and ask questions with genuine curiosity.
- If your loved one is experiencing panic attacks, learn more about how to support them during the attack, in case the situation appears. A panic attack comes unexpectedly and can be very frightening even for the person witnessing it. Read about it or ask a specialist about what you can do.
Take care of yourself
Make sure you establish healthy boundaries for how much support you can offer, share the load with other people, and seek professional help yourself, if necessary. Stay in touch with your own life and hobbies as much as possible, and avoid getting consumed by the patient’s struggles.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to have patience and be kind to yourself. Learning to effectively support a patient with anxiety is not easy and requires a lot of trial and error.