It can be hard to see a loved one struggle with anxiety, but you don’t have to feel helpless. We’ll guide you through nine simple ways to help someone with anxiety.
Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of dread and fear which can affect daily life including work performance and decision making. People with anxiety disorder have a constant feeling of uneasiness and worry which can be overwhelming and consuming. Symptoms can include sweating, the heart beating rapidly, trembling, and dizziness.
The causes of anxiety can’t always be pinpointed, but they can sometimes be related to childhood trauma, such as abuse, neglect, bullying, or the loss of a parent. Anxiety can also be caused by current issues in adult life such as stress, unemployment, exhaustion, financial problems, abuse, or bereavement.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 31.1% of American adults experience anxiety disorder at some stage in their lives. This is a significant number of people, so it’s possible that someone close to you is suffering from anxiety and you may feel confused about what to do. Don’t worry, we’ll share some ideas on how to help someone with anxiety, to make you both feel better.
1. How to Help Someone with Anxiety — Practice Active Listening
When someone with anxiety opens up to you, make sure to use deep listening and don’t interrupt. Let them express their thoughts and feelings without interrupting or offering advice. Show the other person that you are listening by making eye contact and stopping what you’re doing, to show that you’re focusing on them. If they pause, allow silence as they may need time to gather their thoughts.
Be patient and understanding, ask questions if you need clarification, and repeat what you think you have heard, this way there will be no misunderstandings.
2. Choose Your Words Wisely
You want to help your loved ones help themselves, rather than doing things for them, so be careful with any advice that you give — you want to validate their feelings, while offering encouragement. Let them know that it’s OK to not feel OK and that you’re there to help them along, in a non-judgmental way.
Be careful with the words that you use, for example, don’t say “stop worrying” or “calm down”, this will just show that you are not listening and that you think their anxiety is not a problem. Use phrases like “What can I do to help?” or “I’m here for you if you want to talk”.
3. Learn More About The Origins of Anxiety
If we think back to the first humans on earth, they had a lot of dangers to deal with, such as threats from animal predators or other humans, and to cope with this, they developed the fight or flight response. Our bodies showed the physical symptoms of a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and fast breathing, to help us react to and cope with these dangerous situations.
As modern humans have evolved, we no longer have to deal with such extreme dangers, but our bodies may physically react to stressful situations in the same way. If we are exposed to stressful situations frequently, that’s when anxiety or other health problems can develop. Educating yourself about anxiety and how it develops in people can help you understand it and your loved one better. Check out more about how to reduce stress and 20+ foods that reduce cortisol for natural stress relief.
4. Help Them Help Themselves
Helping your loved one with tools to calm themselves when they feel anxious is something that you can do together. One example is “grounding exercises“, these work in redirecting focus away from the thing that is making them anxious and making them more present in the here and now. This can be done by focusing on their senses, such as five items they can see in the room, four things they can feel, such as “the warm socks on my feet”, three sounds they can hear, two smells, and one good thing they can say about themselves, as recommended by the University of Toledo.
5. How to Help Someone with Anxiety: Encourage Focus On What They Can Control
Having anxiety can feel like you have a huge mountain to climb that keeps getting bigger and there’s nothing you can do about it. While the issue causing the anxiety may be out of their control, there are often some things around it that they can control.
For example, if somebody has anxiety about driving a car because someone previously crashed into theirs, we acknowledge that while we cannot control other people’s driving, we can make sure our car is serviced and in top condition to prevent any accidents and have our eyes checked so that we’re ready for driving. If it’s been years since they’ve driven, refreshing themselves on the rules of the road would be another thing they could control. Learn more about the philosophy of not letting things that we can’t control disturb us, by learning how to be a stoic and manage stress.
6. Discourage Unhealthy Habits to Cope With Anxiety
Due to the stress and negative feelings associated with anxiety disorder, it’s not uncommon for sufferers to turn to alcohol or drugs to help them feel calmer. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Associate of America (ADAA) says that those with anxiety are almost three times more likely than others to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder during their life. If you believe your loved one has a reliance on alcohol or drugs to help them cope with their anxiety, there are several things that you can do to help them.
The first step is to let them know that you’re concerned about them, in a non-judgemental way — again, focus on active listening at first. Then let them know that you know some other ways to cope with anxiety, such as through meditation, exercise, and other methods of self-care. However, if you think their use of alcohol or other substances is more serious and affecting their work or studies and that they feel like they can’t function without it, it’s time to recommend professional help.
7. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
It can be draining trying to help someone with anxiety and you must be careful that your worrying about them doesn’t end up causing you health problems. That’s why supporting a loved one with anxiety doesn’t always have to mean listening and talking, doing things together can be a way for both of you to stay healthy. Exercising is great for mental health, so you could offer to do this with your loved one, for example, go for a walk, run or swim together, or do an exercise class such as yoga. Don’t be afraid to limit your time with this person too, you might be able to give better support in half an hour than stretched over two hours.
8. How to Help Someone with Anxiety: Introduce Them to Mindfulness
Mindfulness means focusing your mind on the moment and the things around you, rather than thinking of ten things at once or doing more than one thing, try to do one thing at a time. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is helpful as it involves acknowledging how you feel, whether positive or negative and letting the feeling come and go. One great way to incorporate this is mindful journaling.
9. Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help
If, after trying the above points, your loved one is still struggling with anxiety, it may be time to encourage them toward getting some professional help. This could involve medication in the short term, or psychotherapy, a therapist can assist in teaching techniques in how to manage anxiety. Finding the right therapist isn’t easy, so offer your support in this area.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps clients to identify negative thinking and behavior that cause anxiety and learn how to change them. Research in 2019 described CBT as being very successful at treating different kinds of anxiety in the short term (less than twelve months after finishing treatment).
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