One question I get asked a lot is, “How do I support someone with anxiety?”. Maybe it’s a friend, or more often it’s a partner. Sometimes it’s another family member. So I’ve put together this list of 21 ways to support someone with anxiety to try to help.
Suffering with anxiety is devastating for the individual and the impact can often reverberate throughout families, friends and colleagues.
Whilst anxiety is surprisingly common, affecting around 1 in 5 people, it is still often misunderstood and people are often at a loss as to how to best help someone they know or love.
The following list highlights some of the ways that you may be able to support someone suffering with anxiety. Please bear in mind, however, that everyone is different. Point number 10 is worth bearing in mind: Don’t assume that you know what they want or need. Always ask first.
- Learn About Anxiety – learn about what anxiety is, what the symptoms are, the causes and any treatment options. This can help you to understand what might be going on for the other person.
- Be Willing To Listen – Let them know you are willing to listen without judgement. Anxiety rarely makes sense even to those suffering from it, so it’s often best to be patient and accepting.
- Spend Time With Them – Suffering with anxiety can be incredibly isolating. Just being around can be an enormous help.
- Be Patient – Anxiety is treatable but it can take time and considerable effort. Don’t expect overnight miracles.
- Be Gentle – Anxiety is exhausting. Physically, mentally and emotionally. It drains you. To recognise this is to recognise that someone suffering with anxiety may also need some quiet time to rest.
- Learn About Treatment Options – Anxiety is highly treatable and there are many options available. The GP should be the first port of call to get an accurate diagnosis. Following diagnosis, there are also many private, self-referral and self-help options available.
- Maintain Your Own Interests – Don’t neglect yourself and your own needs. Maintaining your own interests (hobbies, sport, clubs, etc.) can give you a much needed break, boost your energy and maintain your own sense of wellbeing.
- Use Positive Reinforcement – Celebrate their successes, no matter how small. This can be so important in maintaining motivation levels. Be proud. Body language speaks volumes.
- Have Fun! – Arrange to do something you will both enjoy. Even something as simple as arranging a short walk in good weather can be welcome.
- Don’t Assume – Don’t assume that you know what they want or need. They may not want to tell you “No” and this can make them feel more anxious. Instead, ask what you can do to help.
- Be Forgiving – Anxiety can be breed frustration, irritability, sadness and even anger for those suffering with it. Whilst you don’t have to put up with personal abuse, being aware that anxiety may in some cases cause an occasional outburst might be helpful.
- Be Yourself – They will not want you to change because of how they are feeling inside. Be the friend or loved one you have always been.
- Try To See The World From Their Perspective – Anxiety distorts the way people see the world, making it seem like a dangerous and threatening place. Listen to what they say. They are trying to tell you what it is like.
- Don’t Get Frustrated – People suffering with anxiety often know their worries and fears are illogical. But that doesn’t mean they can just stop. Trying to apply logic to anxiety is often futile.
- Avoid Criticising – Criticising anxious behaviour and irrational fears will often make the person feel even worse than they already do. Remember, they don’t want to have anxiety. Using positive reinforcement when they are doing well can often work better.
- Let Them Bring It Up – Asking about the anxiety often can focus their attention right back onto the anxiety again, when they might just have got a break from it. Let them bring up anxiety if they want to.
- Don’t Tell Them To Relax/Calm Down – If they could, they would. Believe me. Relaxation skills can be learned and practiced. This can sometimes require specific training as one part of a treatment plan and again this takes time and effort.
- Maintain Your Own Support Network – Supporting someone with anxiety can be very demanding work. Make sure you look after yourself too. Friends and family can support you. Also, don’t forget workplace support too.
- Don’t Encourage Alcohol Use– Drinking may “calm nerves” in the short term but in the long term it can be disastrous. When the effects of alcohol wear off, the experience of anxiety can be much, much worse. This can also lead to addiction. Same goes for drugs.
- Set Your Own Limits – Know when you need to take a break and make sure you do.
- Don’t Give Up Hope – Many, many people overcome their anxiety and get back to living a rich and full life again. It just takes time and some effort. Recovery from anxiety IS possible.
Anxiety can be disabling and lonely for anyone to experience. Just knowing that you are there to support them in any way that you can make an immeasurable difference on their journey to recovery.
Matt Addie is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Mindfulness Facilitator based in Macclesfield, Cheshire where he specialises in helping people suffering from anxiety, panic and phobias. If you think Matt could help someone you know, you might like to encourage them to get in touch. Complimentary consultations are available here http://www.theanxietymaster.com/your-complimentary-consultation/