For those struggling with an anxiety disorder, life can seem overwhelming at times. Seemingly small tasks can become huge hurdles, and each day’s uncertainty can be debilitating. While there are many different levels, anxiety impacts all facets of a person, whether emotional, physical or spiritual, and will look different for each person. If you want to help a friend, family member or someone you care about who lives with anxiety, here are eight simple ways to start.
When someone is struggling with anxiety, life doesn’t always make logical sense. Sometimes you need to talk through your feelings or experiences to gain some sort of understanding, which means having a friend, partner or family member who is willing to listen without judgment or agenda.
2. Don't try to fix it
After listening, and perhaps hearing repetitive struggles or emotional triggers, we might try to fix the other person. However, anxiety is an internal (and oftentimes physical) battle, one that isn’t so black and white. So, while there are ways you can help, you won’t be able to solve everything. Understanding that anxiety doesn’t always follow textbook definitions with logical responses is freeing both for you and the other person.
3. Be supportive
Showing support will look different for everyone. Maybe it’s asking your friend out for coffee or being available for phone calls, texts or visits when they're experiencing or just coming off of a panic attack. Ask how you can best support your friend, family member or significant other. Then, let them lead the conversation when it comes to them talking about anxiety or how they feel. If they’re not able to tell you, just being a proactive presence in their life is significant.
4. Practice patience
You’re not always going to be able to help, and there may be times when you feel helpless or frustrated with the process or other person—maybe even yourself. Step back, take a moment to remind yourself of the bigger picture and actively practice patience. Realize that neither of you are perfect, but you can strive to be compassionate and empathetic of each other.
5. Encourage community
People need people. Finding community through a program designed specifically for those facing anxiety can offer a much-needed feeling of “you are not alone in this.” While this might seem easy, finding the right support group depending on individual needs can be hard. Offer to help by visiting the different support groups with the other person or researching programs. Some could be local, led by a community organization or therapist, while others might be online. Helping them meet others with similar experiences is significant. Not only can they gain insight and practical guidance, but you'll also develop a healthier balance in your relationship.
6. Focus on the positive
Don’t label the person struggling with anxiety or make this a prominent part of your relationship. They are more than that and have many facets to them. Instead, focus on the positive by affirming their strengths, praising their victories no matter how small, and helping them to find hope when they need it most. Besides, positivity is contagious and you oftentimes attract what you put out. The more we practice this, the easier it becomes.
7. Be present
By simply being present, you’re showing your friend, family member or significant other that you care even when you might not know what to say or how to respond. This can be healing in and of itself. Keep showing up and making yourself available to let him or her know you care, even when life doesn’t always turn out how we might want it to.
8. It's not up to you
Realize that the other person’s well being is not up to you. There are many other factors that you are not in control of so make sure you're practicing healthy boundaries as well. While you can offer support, you’re not going to be the solution, and if you find yourself starting to get frustrated, take a moment to step back. Just as the other person’s anxiety does not define them, your personal worth is not defined by what you’re able to do for them. Remember that practicing self-care is just as important as helping the other person.
If you’re looking for more ways to help a partner, spouse, friend or family member, there are multiple associations like Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), which offer online resources and guides.
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