How to Help Someone with Anxiety
We all have an idea how hard it must be to be suffering from anxiety or an anxiety disorder. The topic is out in the open and there are many resources tackling this issue. What isn’t talked enough about, though, is how you can be of help to someone in need.
Having a friend or family member with anxiety is already quite daunting. You already know they have a lot of negative thoughts, and often low self-esteem. You also notice that they show physical symptoms like tense muscles or a sudden change in sleeping patterns. Of course, their excessive worry and restlessness is hard to ignore. While you feel for them, knowing how to approach them is an even harder task.
It’s great that you feel the need to be there for your loved one. This means you understand the situation that he or she is in. This should be comforting because more often than not, people with anxiety feel alone. They won’t always look like they are having a hard time, but they do have a lot going on inside. Letting them know that you are concerned and that you are there for them will make a tremendous difference.
Having an anxiety disorder isn’t the end of the world. This is a condition that one could truly overcome but it would need the right treatment and a great support system. That’s where you come in! Here is how you can help your loved one recover.
DO: Truly be there for them
It is easy to tell someone that you are there for them, but truly being available when your friend needs you is another thing. Don’t just be present physically. You have to be a good source of support, too. In order to do this, let your loved one know that you are willing to listen to them when they need to talk. They will need a safe space to go to, so avoid being judgmental or dismissive. Active listening and being a source of positive energy will do them best.
Allow them to talk about their feelings. They may have a a tendency to repeat things, so be patient with them. Talking to you is their way of processing their thoughts. Allow them to vent and talk about what is bothering them without criticizing them. Allow them to cry if they need to. Most of the time, your input is not really needed at this point. They just need to release the pent-up energy inside them. You may give gentle reminders, but it is best to stick to reassuring messages. Don’t feel obligated to find a way to fix your friend, because that’s not the point of your company. Being there for them is already very helpful.
DO: Encourage seeking help
Part of being a good source of support is directing your loved one towards the right direction. If you think that they need help that you cannot provide, you should suggest considering seeing a mental health professional. This is especially true if the person has been suffering from anxiety has expressed a desire to see a professional.
Hesitation is common among individuals who think about going to therapy but encouraging them with the benefits they will get from it will help a great deal. Let them know that anxiety is not healthy and overcoming it can only be done when they intentionally work on it. While self-help can work for the surface problems of anxiety, the root cause is almost always unseen. This can definitely be addressed by a professional.
Show positivity about the idea of going to therapy. Destigmatize the notion and let them know that you have their back every step of the way. While they are working on their behavioral changes along the way, be there to support them too. Show them you are interested in their progress by asking them how it has been going, and what they have learned from their sessions.
DO: Make small wins matter .
Taking the necessary steps towards healing is a lot of work. Progress will not be linear, so if your friend ever looks like he or she is having a good day, feel free to mention it. Let them know that you are proud of their baby steps no matter how insignificant they may seem. Huge victories are harder to find in a journey like this one, so celebrating their small successes is reassuring them that they are on the right track.
Another way to make small wins matter is to praise them for having a big moment at therapy. Let them know that big realizations are cause to celebrate because any amount of progress is still progress. Their pace in recovery will surely be slow and most likely difficult so any encouragement is welcome. Having this kind of support with make them less likely to give up on working on themselves.
DON’T: Patronize unhealthy behavior
People with anxiety will show an array of unhealthy behaviors. Don’t praise them for this. There is a thin line between being supportive and being an enabler. One of the most common unhealthy behavior among those with anxiety is avoidance. They don’t want to face certain tasks so they resort to asking for special accommodations or repairing mistakes. They might ask you directly or indirectly to make room for their whims too often because of their condition.
Be firm about your boundaries and be sure not to encourage this kind of behavior. Letting them have their way will temporarily give them ease but this is actually letting them think it is okay to act this way. In the long run, they will get more anxious about their actions and it will result to even worse worries.
Moreover, seeking a lot of reassurance is also another common behavior. Repeatedly and aggressively asking questions like “Are you sure I shouldn’t see the doctor again today?” or “Do you promise you’re not mad at me?” is not something you should encourage. People with this kind of symptoms should be seeing a professional, especially if they demand an answer every time.
DON’T: Oblige them to face their fears.
Helping someone face their fears is good. However, when they are not ready for the confrontation, forcing them to do so will do more harm than good. People with anxiety often have something that they don’t want to face just yet. However, don’t make it your job to make them overcome that. Leave this to the mental health professional.
On your end, you can be as source of support when your loved one expresses his or her readiness to address the problem. Be there for them and help in any way that you can. Affirm their intentions and help them make the necessary steps.
DON’T: Treat them differently.
People with anxiety are ashamed of their condition most of the time. The symptoms may make it harder for them to function especially when they feel that escaping will be hard should an embarrassing incident may occur. Their fear might be visible to others through their voice cracking or excessive sweating. Not everyone might think that these are a big deal but they definitely feel uncomfortable with these ideas.
Let them know you have their back but don’t treat them like they are a special case. If anything, the change will make them feel distressed in your presence and will less likely go to you for support. Be mindful of their behaviors but don’t have your eyes glued on their every move. Remember you want to be a source of positivity, not more discomfort.
- Boyce, A. (2016). How to Help Someone With Anxiety. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201607/how-help-someone-anxiety
- Eastham, C. (2017, April 27). How to Really Help Someone with Social Anxiety. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/5-ways-to-help-social-anxiety#:~:text=5%20Ways%20to%20Really%20Help%20Someone%20with%20Social
- Folk, J. (2021, May 22). 15 Ways To Help Someone With Anxiety Disorder. AnxietyCentre.com. https://www.anxietycentre.com/tips/15-ways-to-help-someone-with-anxiety-disorder/
- McGuire, J. (2020). How to Help Someone with Anxiety. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/how-to-help-someone-with-anxiety