How To Support A Friend Struggling With Anxiety
Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Unfortunately for most of us, we will witness at least one of our loved ones battle anxiety in our lifetime. It can be so difficult to watch someone you care about experience anxiety problems. You want nothing more than to help them and cure them but you don't know how or where to start. The truth is, you can't cure them. But there are things that you can do to support them.
HOW TO SUPPORT A FRIEND STRUGGLING WITH ANXIETY
First and foremost, it is vital that you understand what anxiety is, what it really feels like, and how it affects a person; physically as well as mentally.
In short, Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave. But in reality, it is so much more than that.
If you've never experienced anxiety, it's difficult to understand, because it's different than the normal day to day anxieties people experience. It's not like the anxiety you feel before a big meeting, or before you make an important speech, or before you start a new job. It's much more complex than that, and it's something that is extremely hard to control. It's something that can't be cured easily with logic and reasoning.
As humans we're equipped with a 'fight or flight' reaction in response to physical danger, e.g. a mugging, a fire or a shark attack. Unfortunately, for people suffering from panic and anxiety disorders, this 'fight or flight' response occurs when there is no physical danger, e.g. simply being on public transport, in crowded places, talking on the phone, popping in to the shop and so on. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are so intense that they're almost identical to that of a heart attack.
So before trying to rationalise your loved ones feelings or trying to find logic in their anxiety, please find out as much as you can about it. The fact that you're taking time out to understand them and their feelings could help them dramatically.
When somebody you care deeply for is struggling with anxiety, it's natural and understandable for you to want to help them overcome it and find practical solutions. But what you always have to remember is that they are not choosing how they feel. So although you want them to get better as soon as possible, you have to be patient and careful as you don't want to force them into situations before they're ready. Rushing them can create a detrimental set back in their recovery. Just be sure to take things at a pace that is right for them.
In most cases, anxiety causes people to be easily irritated and they become prone to snapping at their loved ones; I know that from personal experience. As horrible as it is for you to be on the opposite side of it, it is equally upsetting for them. They don't want to be short tempered with you, in fact they hate it. They're not in control, the anxiety is and they don't like themselves because they can't stop it from controlling their every feeling and action. I can't stress enough how important it is that you remain patient and understanding.
This one is pretty simple - don't judge them whilst they feel like everyone else in the world is judging them. Let them know that they can talk to you about their anxiety without the fear of being judged or laughed at. Make it clear to them that no matter what they say, there's nothing that could change the way you feel about them. Remind them that they are more than their anxiety.
As someone who struggles with severe anxiety, I know that knowing we have someone who we can depend on, really does make the world of difference. Knowing they have your unconditional support can be the only reassurance they need.
I'd also just like to say that is takes a hell of a lot of strength and courage for them to make even the smallest of improvements, so it would mean the world to them for you to express how proud you are of them.
ASK HOW YOU CAN HELP
The advice you read here and online won't work for everyone, so it's always a good idea to ask how you can help them. They may not know themselves how they can be helped, but asking them could make them feel more in control.
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If you have any questions you'd like me to answer or you need further advice on how to help your loved one, please feel free to contact me.
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