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The dos and don’ts of helping someone with anxiety

If someone in your family or one of your friends has been experiencing anxiety or has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you will want to know the best ways to support them. 

When it comes to helping someone with anxiety, we have outlined some useful dos and don’ts so that you can make sure that the steps that you take help them to start feeling better once again.  

The “dos” of helping someone with anxiety

DO get a good understanding of their anxiety symptoms

If you have never experienced anxiety, it can be difficult to understand what someone with the disorder is going through.

Anxiety can impact people differently. For example, some people feel a general level of anxiousness all the time, others worry excessively about social scenarios, and others experience panic attacks. People can feel a wide range of symptoms and exhibit different behaviours, which can include defensiveness, irritability and restlessness. It can be an incredibly debilitating disorder and have a serious impact on a person’s life.

Reading up on the disorder and the different symptoms of anxiety can help you get a good understanding of what the person is going through. This in turn can help you to empathise with their experience and identify times when they may need more support.

DO let them know you’re here for them

You may want to explain to the person that you’ve noticed that they seem more anxious lately and that you want to help.

This will typically come as a welcome relief to the person, as they realise that they don’t have to carry the burden of their anxiety alone. Having this conversation gives the person a chance to see that they have people who care about them, who want to listen and who want them to feel better.   

DO listen to how they want to be supported

When you ask the person how you can support them, listen carefully to their preferences. They may want help breaking down a task they are anxious about, they may want you to distract them from their anxious thoughts or they may just want someone to talk to.

By taking the time to listen and understand their needs, you can give them emotional support that will really make a difference.

DO keep lines of communication open

When it comes to helping someone with anxiety, it is important to keep an open line of communication with them.

If you are able to, see the person regularly. Spend one-on-one time with them so that they have opportunities to talk about anything they feel anxious about. You can also keep in touch over the phone, video or phone calling them once a week, or sending a text every few days just to see how their week is going.

DO look after yourself

When you are helping someone with anxiety, it is understandable for you to feel frustrated, scared or tired from time-to-time. It is likely that their anxieties are having an effect on you too.

Make sure that you’re dealing with these emotions and maintaining your wellbeing. Talk to other friends or family members about how you are feeling, think about accessing therapeutic support, take really good care of your physical and mental health, and book in time every week to do activities that you enjoy. By keeping yourself well, you will be in a much better position to help the person with anxiety.

And always remember, you’re doing your best.

The “don’ts” of helping someone with anxiety

DON’T constantly talk about their anxiety

When you are with the person, or when you are talking to them over the phone, avoid constantly bringing up their anxiety or asking questions about it. Instead, keep the conversation flowing and let them talk about it if they want to. That way, they won’t feel uncomfortable and pressured into discussing their anxiety when they don’t want to.

DON’T enable their anxieties

When someone has anxiety, they may try to avoid certain places or scenarios. As a result, you may have started to modify your behaviour as well. For example, you may have started to avoid certain places or scenarios too, or may have started taking on tasks to help the person continue with their avoidance.

We understand that this may seem helpful as you are stopping the person from worrying in the short term, but this avoidance can actually have a negative impact on them in the long run. Their continued avoidance can perpetuate their worries and prevent them from recognising that they could actually manage in the scenarios that they are evading.

DON’T put pressure on them

While it is important for you to not enable their behaviours, it is also imperative that you don’t force the person to go to places or enter scenarios that they are extremely anxious about.

This is something that they should work gradually towards with professional therapeutic support. If you attempt to push them too far, it could damage the trust in your relationship and cause them a significant amount of stress.

Accessing professional support for anxiety

If the person with anxiety hasn’t been accessing professional support, yet their anxiety is having a significant impact on their day-to-day life, it may be something to think about suggesting to them.

Remind them that many people have experienced anxiety and that there is plenty of support available. Let them know that you will be there to help them during their first appointment and will continue to support them as they work towards feeling better.

You may want to suggest that they start off by visiting their local GP. GPs are there to help with our mental health as well as our physical health, and they are able to provide advice, support and access to specialist treatment providers, like the Priory Group.

You can also suggest that the person starts off their journey by visiting Priory Group. Here, they will be assessed by one of our consultant psychiatrists, who will then work with the person to determine a diagnosis and the most effective treatment path for them at Priory Group. Depending on the person and their anxiety symptoms, this could include a course of therapy sessions, medication, a series of day sessions at one of our centres or an inpatient stay, if deemed necessary.

If you would like to find out more about the treatment that we offer for people with anxiety, please visit our anxiety treatment page.

Blog reviewed by Dr Renju Joseph (MBBS, MD, LLM, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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