How to Support Someone Who Has Anxiety
We've all felt nervous or apprehensive about certain things in our lives. It's normal to get a little concerned around exams and tests for example or be really worried about a job interview coming up.
But anxiety is an all-consuming feeling whereby it really does take over all parts of your life and it can be exhausting. The constant fear of the future can leave people feeling drained, irritable and can even progress into panic attacks.
If you know someone who experiences anxiety here's how you could help them in their recovery.
1. Hold the space.
Trying to be logical and telling someone 'it's not that bad' when they're feeling anxious really doesn't help. At that time they have been literally taken over by their primitive brain and are not in the right headspace to make any sort of rational judgement. Save that for later, when they feel calm and relaxed.
Instead, it's better to be supportive and empathise, listen and pay attention to what they are telling you. Make them feel safe with you so that they feel they can communicate more rationally and they will literally be able to talk themself out of the primitive brain.
However do not enable them either, avoiding difficult situations to stop anxiety is not really helping them to manage it. You need to be realistic.
2. Educate yourself
Find out as much as you can about anxiety so that they don't have to explain everything to you. Reading about other peoples personal experiences and just getting informed will help you to understand what they are going through.
Ask them how anxiety affects their everyday life and listen with a non-judgemental ear. Let them know you are there for them.
3. Find out what works when they are feeling calmer.
Talk to them when they are feeling more relaxed and calm about how you can help when there are signs of anxiety looming. People with anxiety know what is helpful but when anxiety has consumed them it is very difficult to communicate this so work out a plan together. This way you'll be more prepared when anxiety occurs.
For example, often when people are anxious they need some quiet space, maybe that is when you know you need to help more with the children or turn your music down. Alternatively, they may need you you to remind them of their breathing exercises and it would be really helpful to sit and do them together.
4. Learn to recognise the signs yourself
Anxiety can often creep up on someone and slowly build until it becomes unmanageable. See if you can observe the signs in them - the distance sometimes give you more objectivity. To be forewarned means you can begin to manage the symptoms earlier and earlier so with time, you could even prevent anxiety from taking hold altogether.
These can include; nausea, shortness of breath, getting tired easily, over-generalising, catastrophising, all-or-nothing thinking, avoidance or fear of events, constantly seeking reassurance, irritability, compulsive actions like obsessively cleaning.
5. Support them to seek help
Remember you're a friend and not a qualified professional, but you can help them research therapists and other support networks. You could also offer to go along with them to appointments if they would like that. Just going to see the GP is a first step in the right direction.
For someone with anxiety, seeking help to manage their anxiety can be a worry in itself so if you can be there to support them then they will feel so much safer knowing you are there. That feeling of panic of the unknown will reduce.
6. Look after yourself
It's important in all of this to make sure you set your own boundaries and understand your limitations. The last thing your friend needs is for you to become ill. It's not selfish to look after yourself, for when you look after yourself you then have so much more to give to others.
If you feel you cannot cope then it may be useful to seek professional help too.
If you've never felt anxious then it is difficult to understand what someone feels but as a supportive friend or partner, you could really help someone in their recovery.
Gin Lalli email@example.com
Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland