Updated: Nov 29, 2019
Living with anxiety can be, to say the least, challenging. People living with it can often feel frustrated and misunderstood as those closest to them might not be able to relate. Over the years, I've heard many clients express trying to get support from those around them but finding it more difficult and just easier to stay to themselves because of this. This isolation can actually amplify symptoms or bring about other mental health issues such as depression.
If you know someone living with anxiety, it can also be hard to know how to help. You may find yourself wanting to alleviate some of their pain but as stated previously, find what you are doing counterproductive. You may have even tried to do searches online looking for articles, books, or other tools to help. Though there are some great resources out there, there is also A LOT of stuff out there. How do you know what's good information and what's not? Do you follow it to the letter or can you make it your own? These are all great questions, and if you're reading this, probably what led you to reading this article.
The following tips may help in being able to support someone you care about. However, before I give you the tips, I do want to premise it by saying, most people who do or say these responses are genuinely trying to help and well-intended. They are in no way a judgment on your actions but rather simply information to use to better help.
1) Tell them "There's nothing to feel anxious about." I know it might seem like the rational thing to say but if they could easily rationally process it that way, they would not be experiencing anxiety. This will only tell them that it is not acceptable to share their feeling with you translating to an unsafe place to seek help.
2) Respond to their anxiety with panic or worry! This often can happen for parents as they really do worry for their child and can feel helpless in the moment. If you feel anxious about supporting that person, be sure to take your own time to work through that in private. Go to another room, take a step outside, take a few deep breaths, etc. Once you're in a better place, you'll be better equipped to support them.
3) Don't shame or scold. This can often happen when people are feeling unsure of what to do. Being mindful of not only your words, but your body language and facial expressions are vital. Ask yourself, "What's the message I'm conveying here?" Be aware of your own uncertainties and deal with those first.
So now that I know what NOT to do, what DO I do?
1) Let them know their feelings are valid. Make space to explore the sensations their having in their body and the thoughts in their mind. What's the evidence for the anxious thought? What's the evidence contrary to it? Are they using all the information to draw a conclusion?
2) Remind them of their coping skills like deep breathing, mantras, soothing music, images, or sensations and encourage them to use them.
3) If they are having a difficult time implementing their strategies, model them and/or do them with them. This prompting can be very helpful in reinforcing the acceptance of emotions and working through them rather than running away.
4) Know that it's okay to ask for help. Share this concept with them and explore how speaking to someone like a licensed therapist could help. It can also help to explore how therapy may also be useful for you in better supporting them as well.