Anxiety affects approximately one in three so in some form or another, anxiety will have an impact on our lives. Either we will suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder, or we will be close to someone who does. The question being, how can we support a loved one who is suffering from anxiety?
It can be hard to have a clear understanding of anxiety disorders, if you haven’t experienced one yourself. Anxiety is a part of human nature but anxiety disorders are not so the way we interpret the word “anxiety” is different for everybody. For some, it can mean a slight feeling of worry or nervousness. For others it may mean a debilitating mental illness that leaves them unable to function. So if someone you know is struggling with anxiety, be open minded to how they may be feeling.
Because it is so different from person to person, there is no single solution for helping someone. For me, I found walking and talking really helpful. Some people can’t stand talking when they are experiencing an anxiety attack. Other people feel their anxiety easing when they have some kind of physical contact; others want all the space they can get.
1. Ask them
The best way to find out what would help your loved one, is to ask them. They know what they feel and they may know what they want but in a moment of intense anxiety, they may not be able to communicate it clearly.
In a calm moment, ask them what you can do to support them when they are anxious. It may be that they just feel better having you close by, or a phone call away. It truly is different for everybody but by asking, you are least presenting an opportunity to express themselves.
2. Do some breathing exercises
If someone isn’t sure what helps them, try doing some breathing exercises that they can mimic. This was something that helped me a lot in various situations. When you can’t regain control of your thoughts, and all you feel is this intense panic, having someone close to you whose breathing you can focus on and follow helps calm that panic down. It allows a person to relax a little and have their thoughts redirected.
3. Reassure them
This is something that a lot of people find helpful. Reassurance is something that a lot of people seek from their loved ones anyway but as anxiety is often triggered by fearful and worrisome thoughts, reassurance is even more helpful. Tell them that they are alright, they will be alright, the moment will pass, they have gotten through it before, etc. These phrases when repeated will stay in their head.
Not everybody likes reassurance though. For me, it wasn’t that helpful as my thoughts weren’t really dictating the anxiety. However, I know a lot of people who benefit from reassurance so it is always worth trying.
4. Use Humour
Again, this is a tricky one but it can be really helpful. You can’t really be anxious and relaxed at the same time and often when you find things funny or you laugh, you are more relaxed. It can be difficult to laugh at jokes when anxious but it is something worth trying. It doesn’t have to be typical jokes, it can just be making funny comments about things around you or something funny that happened. Just remember not to make fun of the person who is suffering with anxiety. That kind of “banter” usually doesn’t go down too well.
Finally, if you can distract your loved one, you may be able to help them out of that anxious state of mind. Often, when people are suffering with severe anxiety, they can only focus on that whether it be the physical symptoms they are experiencing or the triggering situation. Distractions help them to focus on something else entirely. Not every distraction will work but you can read more here: https://www.zortex.co.uk/post/7-ways-to-distract-yourself-from-feeling-anxious
Hopefully, this post has given you a few tips on helping your loved one through with anxiety. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is just to be there for them, whether one day they need space and the next, they need you by their side. Knowing that they can count on you makes the world of difference and it makes the whole ordeal less lonely and less scary.