Anxiety is a condition that can close you off to others. For friends and family of those living with anxiety, this can represent a serious challenge. You want to help them deal with their condition, but you don’t know how to help them or what you can say to snap them out of their struggles.
The first step for anyone who is close to someone with anxiety is to learn more about it. So, here are some “Anxiety 101” points for you to consider.
- Anxiety is not a physical condition, it’s also not something that can be cured through logic or reasoning. Like any chronic condition, anxiety is something that needs specialized treatment.
- Anxiety itself is self-sustaining. It causes problems with your mind and body that make it more likely to experience further anxiety. For example, anxiety changes brain chemistry in a way that creates negative thinking – negative thinking reduces the ability to think positively, which in turn makes it harder to control anxiety.
- Anxiety can also cause people to fear the anxiety itself, which unfortunately bleeds into other areas of their life. One of the more interesting aspects of anxiety is that when you’re nervous about one thing (for example, social situations) you can become nervous about other things as a result (for example, amusement park rides). This is how anxiety works – it can irrationally become contagious!
- If you’ve never had anxiety, it’s extremely difficult to empathize with and understand, because it is so much different than the typical worries that many people experience in their everyday lives. If you start trying to “cure” your friend’s anxiety by assuming you understand what they’re dealing with, you’re going to struggle, and you may actually upset your friend more.
So what can you do to help someone with anxiety?
Here are a few Do’s and Don’t’s:
DO let the person know that they can talk to you about it openly, without fear of judgment. It’s very important that they know that you’re there to lend them an ear, and that you aren’t going to judge them or try to change the way they think or feel – even if they say the same fear over and over and over and over again (because for many, the fears and thoughts are nearly exactly the same each time).
DON’T get frustrated. Remember, anxiety disorders are not just thought related – they’re chemical as well. Those with anxiety really do know that their fears shouldn’t bother them, but as hard as they try they can’t stop, and expecting them to use logic to control their anxiety is extremely difficult, if not impossible. (However, with professional therapy people with anxiety can learn to balance their thinking and ground themselves in reality.)
DO spend time with your friend as much as possible. Just being around them is a bigger help than you realize. In fact, they may not realize it either. Spending time with others makes it harder to think about anxieties, and that time really does make a difference.
DON’T expect massive, immediate turnarounds once treatment is sought. It’s very important that you understand that managing anxiety can take a lot of time, and even on the way there, there are going to be issues that come up and fears that they’re going to have. It’s natural.
DO exciting activities. Try to be outdoors; stay active. Exercise itself is a known remedy for anxiety, and creating new memories can help people cope with some of the stresses of life. So try your best to get out and do things together. For those who are anxious about social situations or being around other people, start slow and be encouraging and supportive along the way.
DON’T guilt trip. It can be hard, but you have to remember that those with anxiety often struggle to get out of their own head. They want to relate to you, talk to you, and be friendly, but they have an incredibly hard time dealing with the thoughts they can’t control.
DO be proud of your friend when they improve. They’ll be able to see it on your face. Remember that anxiety changes thought patterns and can make people think and feel much more negative. Thus, making sure to highlight your positive emotions and your pride – and actually being happy when you see your friend can be very helpful.
DON’T give up hope. Anxiety is a treatable condition. The person in your life isn’t going to always feel or believe it’s treatable, and there are going to be times when even you think it might keep going forever. The truth is that most anxiety disorders can be treated successfully by appropriately trained mental health professionals such as Licensed Psychologists. Research has demonstrated that a form of therapy called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment to help people identify and learn to manage the factors that contribute to their anxiety.
DO be yourself. You don’t need to change who you are, and the person with anxiety doesn’t want you to change either. You are close for a reason. Be yourself. The fact that you’re looking for what you can do to help this person with anxiety proves that you’re a good influence in their life. Be positive, have fun and be the person that your friends or family member loves.
Everyone feels anxious from time to time. But, individuals who experience intense fear and worry that is overwhelming and interfere with daily functioning may be in need of additional support. Fortunately, the majority of people with an anxiety disorder improve considerably by getting effective psychological treatment. A consultation with a Licensed Psychologist at Therapy Changes can help you understand more about how professional therapy can help with anxiety.