How to help someone struggling with anxiety – Mental Health Today

Sara Anderson of the EZCare Clinic shares simple and effective quick fixes for identifying and assisting someone who is going through an anxiety attack. As well as sharing professional advice on the role that you could play in helping your friend or family member in crisis.

Anxiety disorders affect approximately 18% of the United States population, and generalized anxiety in the UK is estimated to be experienced weekly by 6.6% adults. It is also one of the most undermined mental conditions. Fortunately, it is manageable and treatable, and support from loved ones goes a long way.

However, most people don’t know how to help a loved one struggling with anxiety. It is easy, and all it takes is to have practical tips from the experts.

Here is an overview of loving and practical tips for helping someone struggling with anxiety:

Recognize the Symptoms

Anxiety disorder symptoms are mostly psychological and behavioural, which makes them difficult to spot. Many of the people struggling with the condition don’t even realize it. However, recognizing these symptoms is essential, as it is the first step towards healing.

Anxiety symptoms range from mild to extreme. They commonly include:

  • Nausea.
  • Making assumptions based on individual events (overgeneralizing).
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Being overly pessimistic.
  • Restlessness.
  • An all-or-nothing mentality.
  • Fatigue.
  • Always seeking reassurance.
  • Sweating.
  • Always second-guessing themselves.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Avoiding fearful situations.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Compulsiveness.
  • Worrying persistently.
  • Frustration and irritability.

These symptoms may be difficult to recognize, so it is advisable to be attentive, and keenly observe the person. Your relationship and past experiences with the person will help. As such, look out for subtle and significant changes in their behaviour and explore the reasons behind these changes. 

Be strong & avoid enabling them

Dealing with a loved one struggling with anxiety will floor your heart with love and sympathy. Therefore, many people’s first instinct is to shield their loved ones from the causes of their fear and anxiety. Love may inspire this, but it is equally enabling. It only makes the condition worse. It also makes their world smaller as they run out of places to hide.

Be strong and avoid giving in to the urge to protect a loved one from their stressors. Please don’t change the environment to accommodate their preferences. Besides, this is counter-productive, as the condition will only worsen, and their needs will become more prominent and stricter.

Be considerate & avoid confrontation

Enabling a loved one struggling with an anxiety disorder is terrible. Worse still, forcing a loved one to face their fears does not make things any better.

Some people think it makes sense to force their loved ones to face their fears. They believe that it will strengthen them. This mentality is flawed, especially because the person’s stressors may not seem of a big deal to you.

You need to understand that the person’s fears are valid. It is advisable to be considerate and give the person time to overcome their fears safely. The best thing you can do is help them overcome these fears, as outlined in the tips below.

Validate their fears

Mild stressors can trigger an anxiety attack. It is easy to dismiss these fears. The first response from most people goes something like, ‘what is there to fear about?’

It is understandable why you can dismiss your loved one’s stressors as simple, which is why anxiety is classified as a disorder. However, remember that the person has a condition that amplifies their fears, regardless of how mild they seem. Be prudent and understand that people have different reactions to different stressors; even you have unusual fears that you keep buried.

Showing understanding of the person struggling with anxiety is highly appreciated. Try to learn more about their fears and acknowledge that they exist. This will help nurture trust and transparency, making you better-positioned to help them overcome the condition.

Express your concern

Many people struggling with an anxiety disorder suffer in silence, as other people either don’t recognize it or choose to ignore it because they don’t know what to do. It is okay to feel helpless, but you are not entirely powerless. Making your concerns known is a show of expression that will be highly appreciated and will nurture trust between you two.

Express your concern in words and actions to let the person know that you care. As questions like, ‘hey, is there anything I can do to help you overcome your fears?’. Check up on the person as often as necessary and try to offer physical and emotional support whenever needed.

However, don’t be too intrusive with your expressions of concern to avoid appearing nosy. People struggling with an anxiety disorder often prefer to keep to themselves and tend to keep their loved ones at a distance.

Help keep them grounded

Anxiety is manageable and treatable, as mentioned. Many people struggling with the condition eventually develop a range of coping mechanisms that keep them calm and grounded as anxiety attacks come and pass. This is one of the easiest and quickest ways to help a loved one manage anxiety. What’s more, developing coping mechanisms will be easier with a loved one to support and guide them.

The best coping mechanism is to focus on the present – the things happening in the foreground – and ignore the stressors going off in the background. There are many other coping mechanisms, and most are inspired by the person’s preferences and general nature.
Some of the most common and useful coping mechanisms proposed by experts include:

  • Holding the person’s hand and squeezing gently.
  • Talking slowly and calmly as you help them conjure calming thoughts.
  • Giving them a symbolic object will help make them feel calm just by touching or looking at it, such as a trinket.
  • Coming up with a soothing phrase that they can recite to calm down when experiencing an anxiety attack.

Remember, the grounding mechanism should be best suited for the person struggling with anxiety. As such, please encourage them to offer their insight and exhaust all your options until you come across the simplest and most effective technique.

Seek professional help

Extreme anxiety disorder often takes more than emotional and physical support from a loved one to overcome. It demands professional help from a psychiatrist, therapist, and other professionals who specialize in this field.

It may be difficult to tell whether your loved one requires professional support. However, be confident in your judgment and try to urge the person to get professional support. Consider one or both of the primary treatment techniques:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) encourages the patient to face their fears while teaching them personal tips for coping with the condition.
  • Medication management with antidepressants involves using medication to suppress the patient’s fears while boosting their confidence.

However, professional treatment is not a substitute for your loving support. As such, stay close to the patient and offer support as needed.

A friend indeed

Anxiety disorder can cripple your loved one emotionally and limit their social world physically. This is a pity, especially knowing that the condition is easily manageable and treatable. Fortunately, you are in the perfect position to help a loved one overcome their fears.

Seasoned professionals recommend the management and coping tips listed above. They are also practical and easy to enforce. Most importantly, they are efficient, and you will help your loved one overcome their fears and embrace the world bit-by-bit.