What to Do If Your Loved One Struggles With Anxiety Gallery
What to Do If Your Loved One Struggles With Anxiety
Offering support to someone with anxiety can be daunting, especially if you don’t know much about the condition. What if you say the wrong thing? What if you make the person feel worse? What if this person’s anxiety gets in the way of your relationship? It can be especially overwhelming if the person’s experience with anxiety is unpredictable or frequently out of their control.
Watching someone you love go through such a stressful experience isn’t easy. And you may want to jump right in and talk them down. You might try reassuring them in a way that would help you when you’re stressed out. But that might not be your best plan of action.
You may know what it’s like to be stressed, but unless you have a diagnosable form of anxiety you don’t know what it’s like to struggle with an actual anxiety disorder. There’s a big difference between having anxiety and just feeling anxious.
What’s the difference? It’s really quite simple: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an anxiety disorder is not temporary, and it often interferes with the person’s ability to go about daily life. Typical feelings of anxiety usually pass — and they’re not normally intense enough to disrupt normal functioning. An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is chronic and can quickly worsen to a point outside of a person’s control.
The good news is that there are some fairly simple tips that can help you to become a better support system for your loved one.
Educate yourself about anxiety
Reading this article is a great start! There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding mental health, especially with regard to anxiety. The more you know about the common condition, the better you will be at caring for those who experience it. If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, you may worsen your loved one’s anxiety symptoms without realizing it. Your best bet is to be prepared and learn the best ways you can help. If your loved one experiences anxiety attacks, you might do some research on how to best handle their episodes. If your loved one has a tough time in social situations, you might learn about how to ease their discomfort when you’re out with friends.
Don’t freak out
While anxiety is a diagnosis that should be taken seriously, it isn’t the end of the world. Indulging in this kind of catastrophic thinking can actually exacerbate your loved one’s symptoms. When he or she informs you that they have anxiety, instead of expressing how stressed you are about how to deal, remain calm. Anxiety is fairly common, and can be treated and managed. This person can still have a totally normal and joy-filled life. Additionally, try not to panic when this person is acting panicky. Stress and panic can feel physical and intense for someone with anxiety, and receiving additional stressful cues from you can make things worse. Instead, reassure the person that everything will be OK.
Gently recommend mental health resources
You can only provide so much support. Luckily, there are many resources out there to suggest to your loved one. The first is a counselor. The help of a therapist or other mental health professional can work much better to assist this person with managing their symptoms. These professionals can offer science-backed tools to help handle anxious thoughts and episodes, along with trained support for dealing with everyday life. Anyone can benefit from seeing a therapist — but making an appointment can be especially beneficial for those with a mental health disorder. If therapy is unattainable for this person due to insufficient medical coverage or another roadblock, there are other resources you can recommend. These 81 resources, for example, are a bit more budget-friendly.
Avoid criticizing anxious behavior
Try not to complain about your friend who freaks out too easily or your parent who’s extremely nervous when you drive. They’re not just being overdramatic. A person with anxiety often can’t help these behaviors — the feelings usually arise in reaction to intense physical and emotional feelings outside of his or her control. Being critical of someone for their anxious reaction can actually make the reaction worse. If you criticize them, the person may feel attacked or judged, resulting in more fear of rejection or other intense emotions. Instead, come at the situation with an accepting and understanding lens. Let the person know that you understand that they are going through a lot and that you are there to help in whatever capacity you can — while still taking space when you need to.
Help them limit avoidance behavior
People with anxiety often have what’s called “avoidance behavior,” wherein they procrastinate, avoid confrontation, or otherwise try to evade a stressful situation. One way you can support your loved one is by pointing out these instances and helping him or her to overcome these impulses to avoid. Remind them of the drawbacks to putting off a to-do list or letting an argument simmer. Let them know that you’ll be there to help them through the anxiety of confronting the situation.
Limit your frustration
It can be tempting to give in to frustration and tell your loved one just to “snap out of it.” They actually can’t; expressing anger towards them is going to do nothing but add flame to the fire.
Ask how you can help
Let your loved one tell you what support they need. You might not be as great as you think you are at guessing; the best way to avoid doing something wrong is to ask what you can do right. Additionally, asking how you can help is an effective and genuine way to offer support.
Things are a lot better than they used to be, but there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding anxiety and other mental health conditions. Help mitigate your loved ones’ exposure to that stigma by minimizing your own involvement in it. Reassure them that their experience with anxiety is not only valid, but also completely OK. Avoid using stigmatizing language such as calling their behavior “crazy” or “insane.”
Yes, taking care of your loved one is important. But you also have to take care of you! Decide where your limits lie. Let the person know if you are unable to emotionally support them at the capacity he or she demands. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you can’t be available at the times they need or if you have other emotional, financial, or physical limitations.
Listen and acknowledge their feelings
You’d be surprised at the impact a little validation can have. Supportive words can be powerful, but so can a listening ear. Simply by being present, listening, and acknowledging your loved one’s emotions, you are helping them to feel validated. Sometimes, that’s all they really need.
Don’t compare your stress
Anxiety is anxiety. Stress is stress. While a person who has anxiety may feel stressed, not every person who feels stressed has anxiety. By comparing the two or erroneously calling a time when you felt particularly fearful a “panic attack,” you’re mitigating their very real experience. It might seem like an innocent slip-up, but talking about anxiety as if it’s something trivial can be a form of stigma.
Gather your own support system
Taking care of your loved one involves more than just providing support — it also involves making sure you have the support you need to adequately support someone else. It’s vital to maintain your own support system to confide in or assist when you get overwhelmed.
Seek professional help for yourself if necessary
You don’t need to have a diagnosable condition to seek mental health advice from a professional. Your loved one can certainly benefit from seeing a counselor — but you might, too. Caring for someone with a mental health condition can be taxing. Employing the help of a professional can give you stress-management support to prevent you from losing your temper when your loved one is struggling. A counselor can also give you some tools for setting boundaries, as well as help you to enforce them. They may even help you discover some destructive habits that have been taking a toll on your mental health.
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