How to Help Someone with Anxiety
All humans experience worry and fear at some point, and that’s all right. Feelings of worry and fear often help us to perform better in situations that may demand more of what we are usually capable of (e.g., speaking in public, childbirth, and coping with change). However, people who experience anxiety may find that these feelings tend to consume them to levels that they are not able to handle.
It is only natural to want to know how to help someone with anxiety if someone you know or love has been suffering from persistent anxiety or has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It can be quite scary to approach this, but once you understand your loved one’s needs and intentions, you should feel more confident in helping them navigate their way through their experience of anxiety.
How You Can Support Your Loved Ones
Anxiety manifests in different ways because we are all different human beings with different life experiences.
"What is important to remember is that even though the person you care for is struggling with something that may seem invisible, it is very much real in their mind and body."
Here are some of the things that your loved one who is struggling with anxiety would like you to know about supporting them:
1. Understanding vs. Explaining
If you are reading this today, it means that you want to have a better understanding of anxiety and how to deal with it. Chances are you have probably also read up on other similar resources. Knowing what you are up against will help you to empathize with your loved one’s unique experience so that you can sit with them as they go through the motions.
However, trying to solve their problems by explaining your understanding of anxiety might not help. Again, we go back to the basic definition of anxiety where they are unable to control how they are feeling. They may or may not be able to tell you what they need at that moment, but they do need you to hold space for them and accept them for how they are feeling.
2. Listening vs. Enabling
It might be a good idea to ask the person how you can best support them or what might help them right now. When they tell you, listen carefully and make sure that your body language communicates that you are listening and holding space for them. Also, avoid toxic positivity. Allow them to feel and vent about everything they're feeling.
The kind of support that you can provide might be practical, such as helping them make a list, or emotional, such as checking in on them via a text every now and again without the pressure of having to respond. In this situation, it can be tempting to go out of your way to accommodate your loved one’s needs and put them above your own.
Being there for them is an important part of supporting them to stay well, but keeping strong boundaries is also crucial for the benefit of all those involved.
3. Communication vs. Frustration
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open if you want to help someone who is struggling with anxiety. Planning a regular catch-up time might help to establish a routine, and also knowing that no matter what happens, there is a safe space to process what has been going on recently.
Try not to take it personally or get frustrated if the person is not able to keep up with meetings. These things often happen where anxiety is involved. Instead, you can make sure they know you are there by checking in, always with the intention of helping and supporting them with what they need for now.
What Exactly is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a very common and natural human response to feeling threatened. We experience anxiety through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
Something that you might have come across before is the fight, flight, or freeze response. Whenever we feel that we are in a dangerous situation (even though sometimes we are not), our body works to help us prepare for a potential emergency (even though sometimes there is none). The body then releases helpful hormones called adrenaline and cortisol which then puts us in “hyper-alert” mode so we can deal with the perceived threat. We have no control over this response; it is simply something that happens to our bodies automatically.
The worst part of anxiety is exactly that — the inability to control how you are feeling. No one chooses to feel anxious. This might explain why the person you want to help has been canceling plans, not responding to messages, or feeling tired all of the time.
Helping someone with their anxiety can be challenging at times. You might even find yourself feeling overwhelmed by this new role, and so it is important to look after yourself too. The best thing that we can do for those around us is to stay strong and stay well.