We all experience anxiety at some point in our lives. In fact, anxiety has a purpose; it protects us from danger and allows us to respond to emergencies. But when the stress response becomes too much and affects your everyday life, it could signal an anxiety disorder. And from an outside perspective, witnessing a loved one experiencing a panic attack or having overwhelming thoughts may seem challenging to know exactly what to say or do to help. But thankfully, there are ways to learn how to support a loved one with anxiety to help ease their concerns.
What Is Anxiety
It’s normal to feel stressed about several situations. Indeed, moving to a new city, starting a new job, experiencing a breakup, or even fighting with a friend can create a severe anxious response. While this anxiety is unpleasant and tests your comfort zone, it also teaches you to grow and become more emotionally resilient. But anxiety associated with an anxiety disorder makes you feel these stressful feelings often and in situations where it feels unexpected.
It may feel so intense that it stops you from living your everyday life. And, if left untreated, it becomes more difficult to ignore. These scenarios may not be typical of your daily life, but they could describe someone you know. Anxiety disorders are the most common class of mental disorders, with a 12-month prevalence rate of 24.9%. Therefore, it’s important to be sensitive to someone experiencing anxiety, even if you don’t fully understand it.
16 Common Symptoms of Anxiety
There are several different types of anxiety disorders and different symptoms associated with each one. Even more, anxiety feels different for each person. For example, someone might experience a racing heart and sweaty palms, whereas others have panic thoughts. While anxiety is individual to the person, there are a few common symptoms to increase your awareness;
- Excessive worrying
- Catastrophic thinking
- Increased heart rate
- Sweaty palms
- Tight chest
- Trouble concentrating
- Problems sleeping
- Rapid breathing
- Tense muscles
- Panic attacks
- Irritational fears
6 Causes of Anxiety
There is not an exact cause of anxiety. Instead, there are several factors and possible theories that might explain why some are more prone to anxious experiences than others;
- Stressful life events. A stressful life event like losing someone, work stress, or even ongoing financial concerns can cause anxiety.
- Trauma. Children who endured a traumatic event or ongoing trauma are more vulnerable.
- Genetics. Research shows a genetic component.
- Mental health. Other mental health disorders can co-occur with an anxiety disorder, such as depression.
- Personality traits. Certain personality traits such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, or the need to control can cause anxiety.
- Drugs and alcohol. Drug use or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.
13 Things People with Anxiety Wish Others Knew
Here are a few common things people with anxiety wish their loved ones knew;
- When you tell them, “Just stop worrying” – it’s never that simple
- Perhaps, you might think they acknowledge their fears are irrational – rationale does nothing to stop anxious thoughts from occurring
- Anxiety attacks are unpredictable – someone may never know when they happen
- There may be nothing terrible happening – but someone can still feel worried
- Everyone who experiences anxiety, or a mental health disorder is more than their symptoms
- No one is weak – everyone is a work in progress
- Patience is key – your friends are doing their best with what they have
- You may not understand – but most of the time, they can’t pinpoint why they’re anxious
- If someone isn’t comfortable doing something – don’t force them
- Decision making is a challenge – try to understand that
- If they can’t take on another task – this means they really can’t
- After a fight, a friend might replay the conversation – for years
- People can’t just turn off their anxiety – it’s not that simple
9 Tips on How to Support A Loved One With Anxiety
1. Build your awareness
Learning more about your loved one’s anxiety will provide more empathy, greater understanding, and patience. It will also facilitate a stronger bond when you understand it’s not easy to stop or prevent anxious thoughts from occurring. In fact, it’s the best tip to learn how to support a loved one with anxiety.
2. Don’t pressure them
It may be tempting to help your loved ones face their fears, but it only worsens their anxiety. Therefore, when your friend voices their concerns and boundaries, respect them and try not to pressure them to complete things they don’t want to. They aren’t choosing to be afraid – their fears are a part of their anxiety.
3. Avoid a logical argument
People with anxiety understand their fears are irrational, but unfortunately, they can’t control them. When you dispel ration or logic, it makes them feel abnormal and misunderstood. Instead, remain calm and provide acceptance and let them know you are there for them.
4. Ask them
Your loved ones may already know what they need to help cope with their anxiety. For example, some may appreciate a breathing exercise, or others may need a friend to talk to them calmly. When you ask them what they need, you help them be more in control of their anxiety. After learning their preference, match your support.
5. Take time for yourself
Helping a friend with anxiety can be overwhelming. Therefore, it’s equally important for you to take care of yourself, so you can be a more supportive friend when they need you. Remember to establish boundaries if you can’t take more on, and clearly communicate you need time for yourself.
6. Normalize their anxiety
Someone with severe anxiety like obsessive-compulsive disorder, or social anxiety may feel like something is wrong with them. As a result, they need loved ones to reassure them that what they’re experiencing is normal and that your perception of them hasn’t changed. Explain to them that they’re the same person, but they’re experiencing a temporary problem that has become out of their control.
7. Offer balanced support
If you witness your friend stressing about sending an email to a colleague, you may want to send it for them. But unfortunately, if you get into the habit of doing things for them, it only perpetuates further avoidance. Instead, offer support and coax them through the difficulty. This will build their emotional resilience while still feeling safe to confront their fears in a supportive environment.
8. Find an alternate solution
Often, people with anxiety have negative thought patterns that fixate on worst-case scenarios. Gently learning how to guide their thoughts to more positive thinking could be very supportive. For example, if they’re worried about a job interview, discuss the best and worst-case scenarios of the outcome. But don’t pressure them to think a certain way. Merely providing a different approach will be helpful.
9. Be patient
Lastly, try to be patient when they’re experiencing a panic attack or anxious about a situation. It may feel difficult, especially if you feel their anxiety is disrupting a planned event. But providing patience and compassion will help their anxiety pass quicker and will make them feel safer.
Helping someone with anxiety can feel challenging, and you may feel like you’re doing everything wrong. But gently remind yourself that you’re both doing your best to overcome a stressful situation. Even learning how to support a loved one with anxiety is already a sign of immense care, love, and respect you have for your friend. Above all, remember to care for yourself. When you do, you’ll be a more supportive friend, and ready to help them when they need you most.
This post contains affiliate links.
If you found this collection of tips for learning how to support a loved one with anxiety helpful, please share this post on Pinterest!
And if you’re looking for more mental health tips please follow our Mental Health board where we share all kinds of helpful ideas we find each day!