Supporting someone with anxiety can feel overwhelming at times. But learning how to help someone with anxiety doesn’t require that you have deep medical or mental health knowledge of their condition. Instead, helping someone with anxiety often comes down to being available, understanding, and supportive.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at times in their lives, but when anxiety is persistent and impacts your quality of life, then it is used as an umbrella term for various anxiety disorders. Though specific anxiety disorders have unique symptomatology, they all share the common thread of intense fear and anxiety.
Below is a list of some of the most common types of anxiety disorders and their primary symptoms.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) usually involves extreme stress about daily matters, like work and home life. However, in some cases, people with GAD may not be able to identify the specific source of their anxiety.
- Social anxiety disorder is characterized by intense fears of rejection, embarrassment, and humiliation that result in avoidance of social situations. Fear of speaking in public and extreme self-consciousness are other common symptoms.
- Separation anxiety disorder is a condition in which children (and sometimes adults) experience excessive anxiety and fear when separated from a parent, guardian, or another caregiver.
- Panic disorder involves recurrent panic attacks with physiological and psychological symptoms, including chest pain, sweating, nausea, and fear of losing control, to name a few.
- Specific phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder. Fears range from needles to enclosed spaces to heights, with many others identified by the DSM-5. Symptoms include feelings of panic, nausea, and avoidance of the feared stimuli, among others.
Helping someone with anxiety
As noted in the introduction, learning how to help someone with anxiety mostly comes down to compassion and understanding. You can enhance your ability to provide these supports to others by focusing on the following approaches.
Learn more about anxiety
You’re already taking the first step in learning how to support someone with anxiety by becoming educated.
Resources like this one and those linked throughout this article are excellent ways to understand anxiety on a general level. Additionally, these resources offer information about the specific type of anxiety your friend or family member might have.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of anxiety, including physical symptoms (e.g., trembling), psychological symptoms (e.g., extreme fear), and anxious behaviors (e.g., constantly seeking reassurance), is essential as well. If you recognize that someone feels anxious, you can immediately provide support.
In addition to researching on your own, you can learn more about anxiety by asking your loved one about their experiences – how their anxiety feels, the symptoms they experience, what their triggers are, and how their anxiety impacts their daily life.
This is a good approach for any type of anxiety, but it’s especially helpful for learning how to help someone having a panic attack. Don’t just assume you know what the person having the attack wants or needs. Ask them before they experience acute anxiety or panic attacks, then provide whatever assistance they require.
People with anxiety often need to take things slow and might even become withdrawn, which might cause you frustration. However, pressuring someone with anxiety to do something they’re uncomfortable doing will cause them even more anxiety.
The key is to be patient. Be willing to support your friend or family member, no matter how long it takes. Avoid forcing them into uncomfortable situations and offer your unconditional support in times of distress while being careful not to enable behaviors that exacerbate their condition.
Another method you can use to help someone with anxiety is to offer assistance. Ask what you can do to help them be more comfortable. This might include:
- Accompanying them to events or locations that cause anxiety
- Going with them to appointments, like counseling sessions (both individual and family counseling)
- Participating in relaxation techniques, like meditation or deep breathing
- Validating their feelings by expressing your support and understanding
It’s essential to measure your support, though. There’s a difference between being available and supportive and taking over and steamrolling someone with anxiety. You want to be the former, not the latter.
Make it known to your friend or family member that you’re available to support them in whatever manner is most helpful for them. Again, it’s better to take a measured approach. Rather than constantly calling, texting, and dropping by, strive for a point of contact every few days to see how they’re doing and if they need anything from you.
Take care of yourself
Attending to the needs of someone with anxiety necessitates that you take care of yourself, too. It can be challenging work for you both but exhausting yourself and not caring for your physiological and psychological needs won’t be helpful to either one of you.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved one is to find a form of movement that brings you joy. Anxiety and stress respond well to physical activity, so being active can help both of you navigate the stressors of the situation.
Of course, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep are also helpful. You’ll be most supportive, empathic, and helpful when you have a good night’s rest and eat a balanced diet.
Maintaining perspective is also crucial to self-care. As a caregiver, you might put undue pressure on yourself to “cure” your loved one. This isn’t possible and will only be a significant source of stress for you. So, be realistic about the situation and what you can do to help. Take time to focus on your needs first. Doing so puts you in the right mindset to help your loved one when they need it.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2022, October 25). Generalized anxiety disorder). Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Social anxiety disorder: More than just shyness. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness
- Feriante, J., & Bernstein, B. (2022). Separation anxiety. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560793/
- American Psychiatric Association. (2021, June). What are anxiety disorders? Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders
- National Library of Medicine. (2016, June). Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 changes on the national survey on drug use and health. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t11/
- McGuire, J. (n.d.). How to help someone with anxiety. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/how-to-help-someone-with-anxiety
- Kamara, F. (n.d.) 10 things you should know to help a friend with anxiety. British United Provident Association Limited. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.bupa.co.uk/newsroom/ourviews/help-someone-with-anxiety
- Boyes, A. (2018, July 25). Seven ways to help someone with anxiety. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/seven_ways_to_help_someone_with_anxiety
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