How to Help Someone With Anxiety
Worrying from time to time is quite common, and happens to all of us. However, there is a point when it can escalate to more than just every day worries. For someone with anxiety, they may often feel completely overwhelmed for longer periods of time, and they may not even know why.
If you find yourself concerned that someone you love may be feeling overly anxious, then you are doing the right thing by trying to find out how to help them. Often, it seems that many people are unsure of how to offer assistance when they themselves haven’t had similar experiences with their mental health. That is completely okay--read on as we provide you with some direction as to how best you can offer your help to a loved one with anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Knowing exactly what anxiety is is perhaps the most important aspect of helping someone with their anxiety. Anxiety in the most general sense refers to a reaction of the mind and body to certain stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. This reaction may be categorized by feelings of uneasiness or even distress before a certain event. As mentioned earlier, experiencing anxiety is a normal aspect of daily life; in fact, anxiety keeps us alert of our surroundings and has been a big part of human evolution and survival for thousands of years.
However, for someone with an anxiety disorder, these feelings can be extreme and even draining because he/she experiences anxiety to a much greater effect than what other people experience.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders, and a few of the most common types are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: This type refers to persistent or excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. In this case, a person experiences ongoing feelings of anxiousness on most days, worrying about a variety of things big and small that may include chores, appointments, life plans, their relationships with others, work-related matters, and really anything else that's important to that specific person's own values and life. This may also be paired with physical anxiety symptoms which we will go over in just a bit.
- Specific phobia: This type refers to intense feelings of fear in relation to specific activities, objects, or situations that are not necessarily harmful. In this case, a person is aware of their fears and may go to great lengths to avoid such fear-provoking cues. Common examples include the fear of spiders (arachnophobia) and the fear of tight spaces (claustrophobia).
- Social anxiety disorder: In this case, a person has intense fear about being rejected, embarrassed, criticized, or humiliated in social interactions. This may present as avoidance of social situations or participation in social situations but with intense feelings of anxiety. One example is an extreme fear of meeting new people.
- Panic attack or panic disorder: A panic attack is an intense or overwhelming feeling of anxiety that is paired with physical symptoms. A person may experience dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath at the very least. The symptoms of a panic attack are usually severe that some people may think they are having a heart attack and as such visit the emergency room. A person is said to have panic disorder when they experience recurring panic attacks.
Now that we have a working definition of anxiety and some knowledge of how these mental health issues can drastically affect everyday life, we can get into exactly how to help someone with anxiety.
How to Tell if Someone is Feeling Anxious
While the above information is helpful to understand anxiety, it may be more helpful to have a working knowledge of specific anxiety symptoms to be the best support person you can be for a loved one. There are certain signs of anxiety and anxiety attacks that can be grouped into three main categories: psychological, physiological, and behavioral.
These arise in the mind and relate to certain mental or emotional states.
Psychological symptoms of anxiety may present as:
- Excessive or persistent worry
- Feeling "on edge"
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mind racing
- Mind going blank
- "All or nothing" thinking
- Overgeneralizing or using a single event to make assumptions.
These arise throughout the body and relates to physical processes.
Physiological symptoms of anxiety may present as:
- Heart pounding
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Muscle pains
- Restlessness or inability to relax
- Shortness of breath
- Diarrhea and or stomach pains
- Feeling easily fatigued
This relates to a variety of behaviors.
Behavioral symptoms of anxiety may present as:
- Avoidance of fear-provoking situations or events
- Obsessive or compulsive behavior (repeatedly doing a specific thing without real reason)
- Seeking reassurance
- Distress in social or feared situations
- Overly second-guessing
With this knowledge, you will be better able to help someone with anxiety, especially if they're experiencing an anxiety attack.
Tips to Help Someone with Anxiety
When it comes to anxiety, and other mental health problems for that matter, one of the most basic ways to help is to provide love, support, and most of, all non-judgment. Added to that, there are proven stress management techniques that you can help someone to develop as well as resources that you can provide.
Listen without judgment and express genuine concern
Sometimes, listening can be the greatest tool that we often do not feel that we are using.
If you notice that a loved one has been presenting with any specific signs such as avoiding a particular scenario or situation, then it may help to ask them about it in a non-judgmental way. Express your concern to your loved one and listen as they try to talk or explain. Do not be overly pushy or inquisitive. Allow them to lead while showing that you care. Depending on how the conversation, you can also recommend one of the other tips below.
Provide reassurance or validation
This aspect is a bit tricky in that, one of the behavioral signs of anxiety is seeking reassurance. However, in some cases, it may help to reassure the person that their feelings are legitimate and that help is available. Show support and care to your loved one. Here, it is important to never belittle a person or act like their fear isn't a big deal. If their fears seem extreme, then you may need to recommend the following tip.
Know when to encourage professional help
One of the big things with anxiety or other mental health issues is that it may start to affect a person’s everyday life, work, and even relationships. If you notice that your loved one no longer does things they enjoy or if you notice they're working hard to avoid certain things without reason, it may be a good time to discuss therapy sessions with a mental health professional.
In this case, you should always approach with compassion and non-judgment, and it may be helpful to have some resources on hand. The family doctor, therapists, and even peer support are always a great place to start. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to keep this conversation light and positive.
In most cases, you can start at the most basic option, like your family physician, and allow that professional to lead the way. In any scenario, your family member should maintain control. At no point should you be overly pushy with your guidance. Offer your help in the areas of researching where to start, perhaps attending their first sessions with them, helping with duties so that they can make time for an appointment, and the like.
Suggest self-care and coping techniques
There are many self-care and coping techniques that can be used to help with anxiety. A lot of these techniques are very common within the mental health community, and are often even recommended by mental health professionals.
It may be helpful for you to have knowledge of these techniques and perhaps you can suggest them to your loved one.
- Meditation: Meditation is considered a great way to quiet the mind. It can be really helpful for removing some of those anxious thoughts that may occur. If you or your loved one is unsure of how to meditate, you can recommend books on meditation or even online videos. You may even be able to participate in this activity with your loved one.
- Support groups: Finding support is a great way to improve overall well-being. This is also a great way to connect with individuals facing the same issue and actively trying to do better each day. These groups operate in person as well in online communities and forums.
- Supplements: All natural supplements that are specifically made to help with feelings of anxiousness or restlessness are also a great option. In most cases, you can run this by your health care professional before use, as supplements cannot treat anxiety directly, but can generally help with overall mental health and well-being, especially supplements that aim to support overall mood as well as the central nervous system, which is responsible for a lot of the physical attributes tied to feelings of anxiousness and restlessness.
- Self-help books: Self-help books are great for helping people to see the commonality within their issues, as well as take charge of their betterment. Self-help books that cover cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be especially helpful since that tends to be a common treatment option for certain anxiety conditions.
Exercise or stretching: Exercising or stretching is a great way to get the body moving and blood flowing. It’s also a great way to allow built-up cortisol to disperse, which can reduce feelings of restlessness since cortisol is the hormone behind stress in the first place.
When it comes to helping someone manage symptoms of anxiety, providing support and being knowledgable are two of the best things you can do to help that loved one. As you Prepare Your Mind and that of your loved one, remember to approach with love and non-judgment.