4 Things to Keep in Mind When Helping Someone With Anxiety.
So you have someone in your life who has anxiety, and you want to help? You’ve come to the right place. First, know that anxiety is a natural and healthy reaction, but if you “help” in the wrong way, even with the best of intentions, it can drive the one you’re trying to help farther away and leave the situation worse than when you found it. In my own practice, I have seen partners, friends and family members struggle with what to do and that’s why I have decided to make this guide “How to help someone with anxiety”.
Things to keep in mind. In order for you to help, you must first understand and accept the following (you can repeat these out loud if you would like or use them as a daily mantra):
“Anxiety is not a weakness.”
“I can't fix someone else’s anxiety, but I can understand it.”
“If I feel frustrated by someone’s anxiety, I will take space, and remember number 2. If I take my frustration out on them, I will apologize.”
Now that we have that covered, I will build on these with 4 things that you can do in order to help someone with anxiety.
1. Be There
Let me say first, thank you for wanting to help. Often the biggest thing that someone with anxiety needs (or someone going through a panic attack needs) is someone to be there for them. We often feel the need to do something, but understand that being there is doing something. Embrace that idea.
2. Learn About Anxiety
Anxiety can seem like such a blackbox, can we really know anything about it? Well, the good news it that there has been a lot of research on anxiety and subsequent treatments. Doing your research in this regard is enormously helpful to prevent hurt feelings and miscommunication. After all, if you want to help solve a problem, you have to first develop an understanding of what the problem is.
One of the best resources that explores anxiety and answers common questions is the Scottish NHS’s page on anxiety.
This guide explains very well the symptoms of anxiety, and effectively illustrates the anxiety circle that many find themselves trapped in. Take some time to read it.
3. Seek to Understand
and Move Toward Acceptance
How to picture anxiety
When it comes to dealing with someone with anxiety, many people wonder, “Why can’t they just calm down?” Further, not knowing what to do can leave a person feeling helpless and lead to unintentional hurtful behaviors, such as expressing things like, “You’re overreacting,” or “You need to just get over it already.”
Think about this: if someone were struggling with alcoholism, would telling them to “just stop drinking” lead to their sobriety? Most likely not.
The same is true for dealing with anxiety. It takes time to learn new ways of managing and interacting with it, and your patience and gentleness with your loved one is one of the biggest gifts you can give.
While each of our relationships with anxiety is different, it’s something we all experience. It’s hard for those without generalized anxiety to understand what it is like to deal with anxiety on a daily basis. Imagine, if you will, your worst feelings of anxiety/stress/apprehension. Maybe you felt this way before a major presentation, test or interview, for example. Next, think about everything you did that day or leading up to that day, but add this level of anxiety. You now have some idea of what it feels like to suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Let’s think about this in terms of public speaking. Most people have a terrible feeling before a presentation, i.e. anxiety. Now imagine someone right before that presentation saying to you, “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.” You may think, “OK,” but chances are your anxiety would still be there.
Similarly when people say “imagine everyone in the audience naked,” you think, “I did and that didn’t help at all”. Why would it? You are trying to distract yourself from something that just is. You can’t imagine anxiety away or distract yourself from giving the speech.
Instead, a much better thing to tell someone before a speech is, “It’s normal to feel anxious and you can still do this.” That forces them to have an accepting relationship with their anxiety, giving it less power.
The solution in this case, and with anxiety in general, isn’t to pretend that the situation doesn’t exist. Breathing exercises for anxiety are much the same, they may make you forget that you have an inner conflict coming, but the situation causing the conflict still exists and will just come again down the line. In moments of crisis though, breathing exercise can help, so become acquainted with them, like with my free to access 4-7-8 breathing exercises.
Don’t distract, accept.
4. Set a plan
The worst time to think clearly and make a plan is in the midst of a crisis. Instead, when there is a good time to make a plan, take the opportunity to plan for the future. Think of situations that cause anxiety and have a plan of action for what to do in these situations to help, and what to do in the case of panic attacks.
Above all ask your loved one what works for them. This is a complicated area, so I can help to make this conversation simple. Here are 10 questions to ask someone with anxiety. You can get this resource by clicking on the image below, which will take you to our resources page. From there, click on "Free Wellness Guides":
In conclusion, it is not up to you to “fix” any problems. We are often looking for easy answers or quick fixes, but our brain is one of the most complicated machines in existence, and quick fixes for it are few and far between. The best way for you to help someone with anxiety is to be there, understand the problem, be empathetic and have a plan. You don’t have to make it more complicated than that. Loving someone in any regard is a challenge, but the best that you can do is be patient, accepting, and seek to understand.
If anxiety is keeping you from living the life you want, we can help support you on your journey to wholeness. Contact us today to get started.