The sad truth about anxiety is that it is equal parts intrusive and confusing. It is difficult to live with and not just for those suffering with it. It can be incredibly difficult to watch a loved one struggle with anxiety.
Everyone has something in life that they struggle with and ultimately these are the things that make us stronger, braver, and even more compassionate as human beings. Unfortunately, anxiety puts that struggle at the forefront and it is visible for all to see.
When you have a friend or loved one who is experiencing anxiety there are ways to make them feel more comfortable and safe. Keep the following things in mind when trying to help your loved one cope with their anxiety.
Don’t Make a Big Deal Out of It
If your loved one is experiencing an anxiety attack don’t try to make sense of it in that moment. They aren’t okay and they feel awful. Just ask if they want to go somewhere private or quiet and whatever you do, don’t panic. You can offer to go for a walk with them, or just be there for them. Being present is extremely comforting for the individual experiencing anxiety, and it is likely one of the most powerful things you can do for them in that moment.
Remember that most of the time, anxiety doesn’t make sense. They know it, so don’t try to make sense of it. Definitely don’t tell them to get over it.
You should also give them space. Anxiety is unpredictable so make sure you give your friend room to say no to plans and never take it personally. Those who suffer from anxiety tend to be sensitive to the needs of others and they will deal with guilt over canceling. Don’t make it feel worse by being inflexible. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to see you or be around you, it just means they cannot cope with the situation and are protecting themselves.
Read Up on It
It’s always much easier to talk about things like anxiety and depression when the other person has a good idea of what you’re talking about. So, take to the internet to read up on generalized anxiety disorder so you understand a little bit of what they are talking about. They will be grateful that you have gone to such effort for them. Just make sure the site you are gathering information from is reputable.
It is physical
Anxiety is the brain’s physical response when it’s over-protective. It’s that fight or flight response kicked into high gear. Stress releases cortisol in everyone, but for people with anxiety that response is heightened, so remember it isn’t in their heads.
Love & Support Helps
People with anxiety often feel as though they are making things more difficult (for themselves and for others) so be compassionate and offer a shoulder to lean on. Be mindful of situations that are potentially triggering for them. For example, sit in the back row, walk the long way around to avoid a surge of people, shop off-peak, and turn the music down. Whatever you understand their triggers to the anxiety to be, be mindful and sensitive to them.
Don’t Offer Advice
Anxiety doesn’t always look the same. It can also manifest as depression, mood swings, and frustration. Never take it personally. Whatever you do, no matter how close you are or how much you love them – do not try to change them and do not try to give them advice (unless they explicitly ask). Just be there for them.
If you need assistance yourself or know someone who is going through a rough time with anxiety, consider coming in for a consultation with Dr. Forshee, Psy.D, LCSW.