Do Keep Lines Of Communication Open
When it comes to helping someone with anxiety, it is important to keep an open line of communication with them.
If you are able to, see the person regularly as this will help with managing anxiety. Spend one-on-one time with them so that they have opportunities to talk about anything they feel anxious about. You can also keep in touch over the phone, video or phone calling them once a week, or sending a text every few days just to see how their week is going.
Instead Say: Ive Noticed Youve Been Anxious A Lot Lately And Im Concerned
If you notice your friend getting more and more anxious and you know they havent sought any kind of professional help, its OK to express your concern if it comes from the heart.
Instead of making it seem like they are the problem, focus on how their behavior is negatively affecting them and how youve seen anxiety change them: maybe they arent going to concerts anymore even though they used to love live music, or they havent been socializing as much and youre worried about them being lonely.
If theyre open to getting help but feel overwhelmed, offer to do some research on good therapists or to wait for them in the lobby during their first appointment. Remind them that anxiety is treatable and that this isnt something they have to fight alone.
How To Help A Friend Or Loved One With Anxiety
Anxiety is a term that gets thrown around a lot. People talk about being anxious or having anxiety over a situation, but what exactly does that mean? By definition anxiety is a feeling of intense worry or uneasiness, usually brought on when were facing something stressful, like a situation where were not sure what will happen. Often in a situation like this feeling some anxiety is normal, and can even be helpful, like motivating us to study for a test or prepare for a presentation.
But when our anxiety gets too intense, or goes on for a long time, it stops being helpful and starts interfering with our lives. If you have a friend or loved one whos feeling acutely anxious, or exhibiting signs of continued anxiousness, there are ways you can help.
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Do Look After Yourself
When you offer to help with anxiety, it is understandable for you to feel frustrated, scared or tired from time to time. It is likely that their anxieties are having an effect on you too.
Make sure that youre dealing with these emotions and maintaining your wellbeing. Talk to other friends or family members about how you are feeling, think about accessing therapeutic support, take really good care of your physical and mental health, and book in time every week to do activities that you enjoy. By keeping yourself well, you will be in a much better position to help the person with anxiety.
And always remember, youre doing your best.
Dating Someone With Social Anxiety
If you are dating someone with social anxiety, the anxiety will most likely affect your social life. You might not be able to take your partner to all of the social events or gatherings you want to go to. Like with other forms of anxiety, this could lead to arguments or cause the two of you to grow apart.
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Is Social Anxiety The Same As Shyness
Shyness is another trait that often gets mixed up with social anxiety and introversion. Its even been suggested that social anxiety simply represents an extreme form of shyness. Like people with social anxiety, shy people usually feel uncomfortable around strangers and hesitant to open up in social situations.
Learning To Forget What You Think About Anxiety
As someone with family members or friends who have anxiety or a panic disorder, it’s important to understand what anxiety really is. For example, did you know that someone with anxiety can experience physical symptoms even when they’re not mentally anxious? Did you know that one of the symptoms of a panic attack is a feeling of imminent death or doom, combined with intense physical symptoms that are nearly identical to heart attacks?
If you’ve never had anxiety, it’s extremely difficult to empathize and understand, because it is so much different than the normal anxieties people experience in their everyday life. If you start trying to “cure” your friend’s anxiety by assuming you understand what they’re dealing with, you’re going to struggle, and you may actually upset your friend or family member more.
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Managing Your Reactions To The Anxiety
When your partner talks about his or her anxiety in the context of your relationship, its easy to take it personally and become upset. Its easy to interpret the anxiety as selfishness, rejection or an attempt to create distance, said therapist Michael Hilgers.
You will want them to just get over it, Hilgers said. You will want them to just not worry about it.
The moment you make it about you, youll start to feel upset. You might react defensively and say something mean.
If you cant bend without shaming, you will only make the problem worse, Hilgers added.
Then you partner will strike back. Flash forward to an hour later and youre fighting. The argument has snowballed. You might not even remember why you are fighting.
Instead of allowing the anxiety to rile you up, take a moment to calm down. Remind yourself that the anxiety most likely isnt about you. Youre not the source of it. Its about your partner.
Calmly address what your partner is feeling. You can say something like, Im really sorry you feel that way. That must be hard. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better about that?
Managing your reactions is more important than managing your partners reactions, said Talkspace therapist Marci Payne. It can help you be there for your partner and set boundaries. If your partners anxiety causes you to flip out every time they bring it up, it will be impossible to support them.
Provide Safe And Comforting Physical Touch
Im a big advocate for skin-to-skin contact. We live in a culture thats starved for physical affection. We all crave it, and we all need it. A warm hug, a cuddle session on the couch, or holding hands tells your loved one, When youre with me, youre safe.
Skin-to-skin contact isnt just for newborns, and it often isnt sexual. Offering safe and affectionate physical touch is a powerful way to calm anxiety. Skin-to-skin contact reduces heart rate, which is one of the physical manifestations of anxiety. Physical touch also has the power to erase feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
Of course, physical touch will look different depending on the person youre comforting. It could be holding hands with your spouse and looking them in the eye. It could be a tight, 60-second hug with a friend .
It should go without saying, but before you touch anyone struggling with anxiety, even your spouse, ask their permission. Since anxiety is an alarm signaling a lack of control, reaching out to touch someone without their permission could make them feel like theyre not in control of their own bodies. In an effort to help, you may make things worse. Gently extend your hand as an offer for them to take your hand. Kindly ask, Will you walk with me for a moment? Or you might ask, Do you mind if I put my hands on your shoulders? or Can I hug you? If someone isnt interested in your touch, dont take it personally. Respect their independence and move on to the next step.
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Remind Your Loved One That Theyre Worthy Of Being Well
One of the most important things you can do to help a friend whos struggling with anxiety is remind them that theyre worth being well. They deserve to live a full, rich and joyful lifefree from the crippling restraints of anxiety. Were complex creatures with many layers of needs, including:
- A nutritious diet
- Close, supportive and intimate relationships
- A broader sense of community and belonging
- Meaningful work
- Healing from past trauma
If your loved one is struggling in any of the above areas, encourage them to take steps to get well. Try a fitness class together. Cook some healthy recipes. Help them dream about a new job opportunity. If theyre not interested in joining you, set an example and seek to begin your own wellness journey. Sometimes our loved ones will follow the roads that weve carved for ourselves. Whatever area need some attention, keep reminding your loved one that theyre worthy of a better life.
This Is Not As Big Of A Deal As Youre Making It Out To Be
When you tell someone with anxiety that something upsetting them isnt a big deal, they translate it into being told theyre overreacting.
Whatever it is that theyre worrying about is clearly important to them
Whatever it is that theyre worrying about is clearly important to them, and in that moment, it feels like the biggest, scariest, worst thing that could happen. Not only is it not up to you to determine what embodies a big deal, you also cant expect them to just turn that fear off.
Furthermore, pointing out that a fear is irrational doesnt help in the slightest. They already know its irrational, and it irritates them just as much as it does you. Unfortunately, knowing that their fears are unjustified doesnt stop racing thoughts or the anticipation of hundreds of different worst-case scenarios.
The truth is, if it were as easy as saying thats irrational, so theres no need to worry about it, the majority of people with anxiety disorders would be cured.
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You Arent Trying Hard Enough To Get Better
Saying this to someone who is attempting to combat their anxiety is one of the most frustrating and damaging things you can possibly say. Fighting anxiety is a constant battle that never seems to end its incredibly exhausting.
Sometimes even when theyre working towards a treatment plan and finding medications that relieve their symptoms no matter how hard they try, they are still overcome with fear and worry.
If theres one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty, its that anyone suffering from chronic anxiety is trying with every fiber of their being to be get better.
When you tell them theyre not, you may cause them to give up hope and cause damage that cant be undone.
Know When Its Time To Ask For Help
Even though the symptoms of anxiety can feel overwhelming and permanent, anxiety is highly treatable. If someone you love is experiencing pervasive anxiety, or you have concerns that anxiety is interfering with daily life, encourage them to seek help from their primary care physician or mental health professional.
Of all the ways to help someone with anxiety, this may be the most important one.
As a friend or loved one, your role is to offer support, not treatment. Offer to assist with locating a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist that treats anxiety. Talk to them about online and in-person therapy options.
Individuals living with anxiety can often feel better by undergoing a combination of therapies, including psychotherapy, medication, and self-management.
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Its Really Not A Big Deal
Whenever I hear about this one, I want to respond with a sarcastic youre right. And now that youre done completely invalidating my feelings and my mental illness, lets go to the nearest kids birthday party and see how many of those small humans we can make cry. Although the things those of us with anxiety worry about might seem trivial, for us, they are anything but. We are aware that our fears and our thoughts are often irrational, but we cant control the way these things affect us. That is how anxiety works. By saying that the things we fear are not a big deal, you are inadvertently implying that our anxiety, and the suffering we endure as a result of our anxiety, is also not a big deal.
What If They Dont Want To See A Provider
Mental health and medical professionals offer the most effective anxiety treatments for most people. But nearly any kind of talk therapy is better than nothing.
Encourage them to find someone theyre comfortable talking to. Counseling with a priest, rabbi, or other faith leader might be a place to start. For children, teens, or students, a school counselor is a great resource. And for some folks, joining a support group can help them come to terms with their illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has affiliates across the country that offer support groups and educational programs.
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Quick Read Anxiety Support 101
- Theres a difference between normal, everyday anxiety and having an anxiety disorder.
- If an anxious friend decides to confide in you, show you support them.
- Validate, rather than minimize, their experience.
- If you dont have an anxiety disorder, avoid offering advice without listening to your friend.
- Tell them youre there for them, ask how you can help and listen to what they have to say.
Its never not awkward telling someone I have anxiety disorders. And Ive had to tell a lot of people: friends, family, supervisors, dates.
Opening up to others can be validating and freeing, but its always stressful at first because I dont know how theyll respond. Being stereotyped or treated insensitively when youre struggling can be nerve-wracking, especially if you already get down on yourself for having anxiety.
What Ive learned in my many years of coming clean is that most people mean well. They dont want to say the wrong thing, but it can be hard for them to know the right thing to say if they dont know much about anxiety.
While everyone experiences anxiety, people experience differing degrees of severity, says Ty Lostutter, a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety and treats patients at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance at South Lake Union.
Anxiety is normal and healthy. It keeps us safe and motivates us, Lostutter says. It only becomes a problem when someone becomes overly anxious and it interferes with daily life.
Why Cant You Be More Positive
Anxiety isnt about negativity for many sufferers its a learned response from traumatic events which have caused us to feel as if we are constantly unsafe. When youve experienced trauma, these feelings make it incredibly hard to see the world optimistically.
Telling someone to look on the bright side or see the glass as half full are tremendously patronizing when theyre hurting.
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