How to Help Someone with Anxiety
Anxiety, is the most common mental health problem affecting the population today. With more than 1 in 10 people suffering from some form of anxiety at some stage during their lives, it’s a guarantee that either you or someone from your family or one of your friends or colleagues will find themselves in this position.
Despite this, anxiety is a word we commonly throw around, with blatant disregard for its debilitating effects; it’s been bandied about so much that we forget it’s not just one word, but various independent symptoms that fall under the general umbrella of the term anxiety.
However, if you research in depth, you will discover that there are actually several types of anxiety that a person can suffer from during their lifetime. Each type of anxiety can affect both the personal and professional life of an individual. If you suffer from any one of the symptoms or types of anxiety, it can have various adverse effects in your life.
Anxiety Manifests Itself Differently In Each Individual
Each component of anxiety manifests itself in different ways and has various psychological triggers, as well as psychological and physiological effects. These triggers and effects are never the same for any two individuals.
In other words, everyone’s anxiety is different and can manifest itself in different ways. Therefore, the path to overcoming anxiety will be slightly different for each person.
Why We Don’t Reach Out for Help
Despite a lot of effort over the last few years to de-stigmatise mental health problems, most of us still don’t want to talk about our mental health.
Why? Well, if your mental health is problematic in some way, e.g. anxiety or depression, you generally feel like nobody understands you.
And the sad truth is that you are probably right.
As well-meaning as friends and family are, they simply do not have the skills to handle this type of conversation. And while we are all encouraged to open up more and more about our mental health, little thought has been given to educating people on how to respond when the subject of anxiety is brought up.
And in the absence of saying the right thing, most people will settle for just saying something. Unfortunately, that something can make the sufferer wish they had never brought it up in the first place!
Common Mistakes When Dealing With Anxiety
That said there are several mistakes that are commonly made and must be avoided when dealing with someone with anxiety. These are the same no matter if you are dealing with a family member, a friend or a colleague.
- Don’t belittle what someone is experiencing by saying something like; “Why on earth are you stressed/upset/anxious about that?” An anxiety sufferer generally knows that their reaction is inappropriate and out of proportion. This is the nature of anxiety; they are not able to logically rationalise what they are experiencing or consciously control it.
- Don’t dismiss their experience by saying something like; “Come on; it’s all in your head.” Their inability to control what is going on in their head is painfully clear to them. Pointing out the obvious only serves to generate further anxiety for them.
- Don’t generalise their experiences with phrases like; “No one else gets stressed/upset/anxious about that”, or “It could be worse”, or “Everyone worries about something”. The perception of anxiety and its effects are different in each person.
- Don’t tell them what to do by saying things like; “Calm down” or “Just breathe”. Suggesting a simple solution in the wrong way, no matter how well intended, will effectively belittle and appear dismissive of their painful experience.
The 7 Do’s and Don’ts When Helping Someone with Anxiety
The following are 7 dos and don’ts when someone opens up to you about anxiety or depression:
- Do be grateful that they are opening up to you. For most sufferers, it is difficult to speak about their anxiety or depression. Anyone will probably feel anxious about raising the issue with you, so acknowledge this by saying “I can only imagine how difficult it is to discuss this.” This will help them open up and establish trust.
- Don’t offer a solution. A lot of people think that they are helping when they say things like; “You know what? This is what you should do; you should meditate, do yoga, or take up jogging”. They don’t want your advice, they just want you to understand what they are going through.
- Do ask questions: The more questions you ask, the more people feel that you want to understand them. Ask them how long they have felt this way or if there is anything that makes it better or worse.
- Don’t attempt to help them by telling them that they are overreacting and that they really shouldn’t be depressed or anxious about the things that they are depressed or worried about. This will not only make them regret opening up to you in the first place but also make it more difficult for them to open up to anyone else in the future It may also increase their anxiety further.
- Do be there for them and ask them what you can do to help. An anxious person needs the reassurance that support is at hand, and that they are not suffering alone.
- Don’t compare what they are going through with that of someone else by saying something like; “my friend had anxiety, and she took medication, and she’s fine now”. Everyone’s anxiety is different, comparing what they are going through to what someone else went through just sends the message that you don’t really understand how they are feeling.
- Do suggest that you could do some research for them and make an appointment on their behalf with someone who can help. At least half of the appointments that are made with me are done by concerned family members and friends.
Anyone Can Overcome Anxiety If They Get the Right Help
Without intervention, anxiety tends to get progressively worse and impacts not only the personal well-being of the individual, but also their relationships with friends, family and colleagues.
It’s important to remember that many who are suffering from anxiety are suffering from a mild form rather than some of the more severe types of anxiety discussed here. With the right support these individuals can learn how to take back control of their minds and make their anxiety a thing of the past.