How to Help Someone with Anxiety
We all worry and feel scared from time-to-time. Anxiety can make people feel overwhelmed by fear of things that may seem absurd to them. These fears can be difficult to relate to, so many people don’t know how to help someone suffering from anxiety.
“People often dismiss people who experience anxiety,” says Joseph McGuire Ph.D.. He is a pediatric psychologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine. You may be able see symptoms in other illnesses. You may not be able to see the anxiety symptoms. It’s important that you are sensitive to the feelings of anxiety, even if they don’t make sense to your brain.
Although it can be distressing to see a loved one suffer from anxiety and panic attacks every day, there are ways you can help. Recognizing the signs of excessive worry is the first step to helping your loved one.
Learn how to recognize the signs of anxiety
Anxiety disorder can be the most common mental illness in the United States and affects up to 18%. You can recognize signs and symptoms of anxiety in your loved ones to help you identify when they are experiencing fearful thoughts or feelings. Although symptoms can vary from one person to another, they can be divided into three categories.
Some physical symptoms that your loved one might feel include:
- Feeling restless and/or edgy
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeling easily tired
Anxiety can lead to thought patterns like:
- Believe that the worst is possible
- Persistent worry
- Thinking in all-or-nothing
- Overgeneralizing (making general assumptions based only on one event)
Your loved one’s behavior is what you will notice the most. These are some common anxiety behaviors:
- Avoidance of fearful situations and events
- Looking for reassurance?
- Frustration and irritability in fear situations
- Compulsive behaviors (like washing your hands repeatedly)
Learn What Not to Do
Anxiety is often a cause for concern, and the typical responses are unhelpful. These are the actions to avoid:
Do not allow
It is common to want your loved one to avoid difficult situations by doing everything you can to alleviate the concern. McGuire says that this may seem sweet and thoughtful. McGuire says that anxiety does not always disappear. If people avoid difficult situations, anxiety will grow over time and special requests for accommodation will increase.
You can make your anxiety worse by changing your environment or behavior to accommodate your loved ones’ anxiety. Avoiding situations that are difficult doesn’t allow your loved one to overcome their fears and master anxiety. It makes their world smaller, as their ability to accomplish the things they want becomes less and less due to their anxiety.
Do not force confrontation
However, it is not a good idea to force someone to do something that they are afraid of. McGuire warns that pushing someone who isn’t ready can cause a breakdown in the relationship. Partnering with a professional therapist is the best way to learn how to overcome deep anxiety. This relieves you of the responsibility. This empowers your loved ones by helping them to face their fears with the guidance of someone with experience.
Use anxiety tips that work
Helping someone with anxiety requires loving and accepting responses. These are some of the approaches you can use to help someone with anxiety:
Anxiety can be caused by many things. A person’s experience is not diminished by saying something like “I can’t imagine you’re so upset about such a small thing.” Instead, talk to your loved ones about how you can support them during difficult times.
McGuire says that what makes someone fearful might not be a big deal for another person. McGuire says that your anxiety does not have to be understood by you. It is important to recognize that the individual is feeling real anxiety and needs to be sensitive to it.
Send your concern
McGuire says that it is difficult to imagine a loved one suffering from an anxiety attack. McGuire says that there isn’t much you can do at the moment to reduce panic attacks’ intensity or shorten their duration.
You don’t need to hide your concern if your loved one starts to withdraw from activities they once enjoyed. McGuire suggests that instead of avoiding your concern, you can approach your loved ones in a positive and warm manner. You can begin a conversation by stating that you have noticed changes in behavior.
Example: “Hey, I noticed you have been avoiding [insert place] and other social events. You might then ask them if they feel they need help with anxiety.
Know when to seek help
It’s time for professional help if your loved one’s anxiety begins to interfere with their ability to enjoy life, socialize at school, work, or hang out at home.
Encourage your loved one to schedule an appointment with a mental healthcare provider. McGuire says that if they are resistant to the idea, you can remind them it is only one appointment. It doesn’t mean that they must commit to any treatment or work with a specific therapist. This is a check-in for your mental and psychological health, not just an annual physical exam.
There are many treatment options for anxious patients
Two primary treatment options are available for people with anxiety:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method that helps you to reduce anxiety and deal with distressing situations.
- Combining antidepressants with medication management, which is a combination that works well by itself but also when combined with CBT.
During therapy, show your support by continuing to:
- Ask your loved one to tell you what you can do for them.
- To learn skills and support your loved ones better, ask if you are able to attend therapy sessions.
- You can make time for yourself and your interests to keep you energized.
- Encourage your loved one or friend to seek out another therapist if they aren’t satisfied with the first.
McGuire says that early treatment is the best way to treat anxiety in a loved one. It is difficult to recover from anxiety, or any other mental or physical condition, if you leave it untreated.