What can you do to help if somebody you care about is facing anxiety?
Anxiety, like any mental health issue, is often complicated. That’s why I’ve come up with 5 tips to help you understand if, when, and how you might be able help someone who’s currently suffering from anxiety.
1. Understand what anxiety is
Serious anxiety is a clinical disease that can affect people’s mood and behavior in a way that they often have no control over.
It’s normal for people to experience moments of anxiety sometimes, and most people can relate to feeling anxious.
Think about the last time you did a job interview, or found yourself in an unfamiliar situation. That’s fairly normal. But for some people, anxiety can get out of hand and start occurring in a persistent and unhelpful way.
It’s important to know that it’s a medical condition, and that it’s more common than you might think. As with any mental health issue, it’s important that someone experiencing anxiety gets professional help to support them through their recovery.
2. Know how to recognize anxiety
Part of the challenge is knowing how to recognize anxiety. Because anxiety can present in different ways for different people, a proper diagnosis should always involve a medical professional.
However the list below will give you an idea of what some of the most common symptoms of anxiety:
- An irrational and ongoing sense of worry, a sense that something bad is going to happen
- The inability to relax, uneasiness and irritability
- Difficulty sleeping
- Inability to concentrate or focus for extended periods
- Sudden and unprovoked feelings of panic
- Physical sensation such as breathlessness, dizziness, palpitations and sweating
3. Start a conversation
The closeness of your relationship will play a big part in how a conversation like this might play out, and it’s important to be respectful at all stages.
Here are some tips to help you navigate a conversation on anxiety:
- Find a calm, convenient time to gently bring up the subject.
- Be mindful and respectful that they might not want to discuss it. If that’s the case, don’t push the subject as you might increase feelings of anxiety.
- Let them know that they can talk to you. Try not to offer advice unless they ask for it – just give them an opportunity to talk about how they’ve been feeling.
- Once you’re both feeling comfortable, and once you have shown that you’re are a good listener who will not judge or try to “fix” them, you can start to go deeper into the issues.
4. But what do I say?
When you find an appropriate time to bring up the topic of anxiety, it can be hard to know what to say.
Some of these ideas may be helpful to include in your conversation.
- Be willing to take time to talk about their experiences.
- Let them know that it is a real disease, that it’s very common and can be overcome with effective treatment.
- Without being critical of them or their behavior, you could gently let them know about some the changes you may have noticed in their behavior and emotions.
- Suggest that seeing a doctor or an anxiety specialist may help them to address the issue and to recover; you could offer to come with them to make and/or attend an appointment.
- Be sure to check in on them and be sensitive to times when they might be experiencing anxiety.
- Encourage good habits such as getting enough sleep. Yoga and meditation might be helpful too.
- If they become a threat to themselves or others, contact a doctor or hospital immediately.
5. What should you avoid?
Helping someone can be hard, and trying to fix everything yourself, or taking on the role of self-assigned counselor can make things harder for you and for them. Here are a few things to avoid talking about or suggesting.
Telling someone experiencing anxiety to “just relax”, “calm down” or “get over it” is not helpful.
Don’t become distant and avoid calling or visiting with them. Continue to reach out. Knowing that people are thinking of them and want to see them is important.
You should also never encouraging the use of drugs or alcohol to manage anxiety. This is not a suitable remedy and won’t ever be helpful.
Invite this person places, but try to think beforehand if the event of situation may make the person anxious. Do your best to hang out with them in places they’ll feel comfortable, whatever that means for them. This may mean suggesting a variety of options, such as meeting at a coffee shop, bringing coffee to them, or taking a short walk around the neighborhood.
Also do your best to encourage them to seek help. Doing nothing and assume the problem will go away is ignoring the gravity of the situation. Anxiety is awful and no way to go through life. Remind them that they can and well get better. Encourage them to keep fighting.
And remember this:
It’s hard to see anyone you care about being unwell, and friends, carers and family of people with anxiety disorders often find it difficult witnessing the challenges that anxiety brings.
The most important step towards helping someone you care about is recognizing – for yourself and for them- that this is a real illness.
Being someone they can turn to and helping to provide brief moments free from anxiety can be really helpful. Remind them that they aren’t alone and that with the right professional support they’ll be able to get back on the road to recovery.