How to Support Someone with Anxiety (Even if You Feel Clueless)
Is someone you love struggling with anxiety? Do you want to be a supportive friend or confidant, but you worry about saying or doing the wrong thing?
Mental illness can be confusing, and it’s reasonable to feel confused, worried, or uncertain about how to help intervene. Perhaps you are aware of the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health. As a result, you want to avoid making detrimental mistakes that could impact your loved one’s well-being.
You can be a tremendous ally in someone else’s recovery journey. Even if you can’t change what they are experiencing, you can provide substantial support. Let’s get into how.
Educate Yourself About Anxiety
While anxiety is often used as an umbrella term, there are several different anxiety disorders, and each of them has unique characteristics. Common anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)- GAD consists of excessive and ongoing global worries that impede your daily living and quality of life.
- Panic Disorder- Panic disorder includes ongoing panic attacks, which can result in people avoiding triggering situations that they believe may cause an attack.
- Social Anxiety Disorder- Social anxiety disorder includes immense fear over social situations often due to worry about being judged or rejected by others.
- Specific Phobia- Specific phobias are excessive and irrational fears over a specific event, object, or item.
- Agoraphobia- Agoraphobia is the fear of enclosed spaces or public areas which often cause people to withdraw or avoid leaving home.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder- Separation anxiety disorder refers to fear about being apart from another person, and the symptoms often first manifest in childhood.
As a loved one, it can be invaluable to educate yourself on anxiety symptoms and treatment options. This knowledge helps you understand the condition better, and it also enables you to feel prepared for what to expect moving forward.
Be Honest With Your Observations
Have you noticed any significant changes in recent weeks or months? If so, what types of symptoms have you noticed? Does your loved one seem more worried or frantic over certain tasks? Is she making cynical jokes about never feeling good enough? Have you seen him have a panic attack recently?
To initiate a conversation about mental health, you may need to take the lead in sharing your observations. Doing so is simple, but it can also be very challenging and feel awkward. You should ideally discuss what you have observed without showing any semblance of judgment. This means using neutral statements like, I noticed that you missed work twice last week or Your husband told me that you haven’t been sleeping well lately.
Remember that the goal here isn’t to accuse your loved one of doing anything wrong. Instead, the goal is to convey that you’ve noticed some changes, you are concerned, and you want to be supportive.
Listen, Affirm, and Validate
Mental illness can be difficult to talk about especially if your loved one has felt rejected or shamed by others. Remember that listening is one of the most crucial pieces of showing your support. It’s not always about what you say or do. It’s about being there unconditionally, staying present, and proving that you care.
Affirm and validate your loved one’s feelings. Honor that it’s okay for them to feel whatever they currently feel. Let them know that you feel grateful that they are willing to share their struggles with you. Remind them that you are here for support.
Express Your Desire To Help
Many people struggling with anxiety feel guilt or shame about their experience. They may try to minimize or deny what’s going on. They may not want to burden you with their concerns.
You are not responsible for fixing your loved one’s pain. However, you can demonstrate support by asking how you can offer help. Would it be beneficial for you to help them narrow down therapy options? Can you suggest that they reach out to you if they are feeling especially triggered or uncomfortable?
Each person will have different needs, and keep in mind that some people may not want specific help. They may just want to know you’re there for support. Don’t overlook the importance of checking in with a phone call or text. Being a compassionate friend is usually more important than providing specific advice or solutions.
How To Be There For Someone Struggling With Anxiety
If someone you love is struggling with anxiety, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, confused, or frustrated yourself. You may doubt yourself and your capabilities. You may worry about saying or doing the wrong thing.
However, your job is to simply show up and be there. Don’t lecture, withdraw, or run away. Don’t fall victim to the fallacy that you need to fix your loved one’s problems or pain.
If you are struggling with anxiety yourself, therapy can help you begin a profound journey towards healing. Together, we can build the skills you need to understand your triggers and emotional responses. Together, we can help you identify healthier coping skills for growth and recovery. Contact Willow Counseling today to get started.
Willow Counseling, PLLC, Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.