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. Leaning how to help someone with anxiety can be daunting at first, but once you understand their concerns, you should be able to communicate well.
Mental health conditions can sometimes be tricky to manage, but when it comes to helping and supporting someone with anxiety, we have outlined some useful anxiety 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
Anxiety impacts people differently. There is a wide range of anxiety symptoms and people can exhibit different behaviours, including defensiveness, irritability and restlessness.
Reading up on anxiety types and their different symptoms can help you get a good understanding of what the person you care about 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
When learning how to help someone with anxiety, 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. Someone suffering from anxiety could also tell you ways you can help manage their anxiety symptoms.
Do listen to how they want to be supported
When you ask the person how you can support them, listen carefully to their preferences. After all, you want to know how to help people with anxiety and support them. 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.
What to Say to Someone with Anxiety
If your loved one feels comfortable discussing their anxiety, use active listening techniques to show you understand how they feel and that it makes sense. You could use phrases such as:
- How can I help you?
- I've noticed you've been anxious recently, and I'm worried about you
- No matter what, I'll always be here for you
- Do you want to go for a walk and talk about it?
What Not to Say to Someone with Anxiety
There are things you should try and avoid saying too. In general, try not to minimise how someone feels or dismiss what they're saying as an overreaction. Don't say things like:
- Try not to think about it
- I get anxious sometimes too
- Maybe you're just an anxious person
- You've got nothing to be anxious about
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 as this will help with managing anxiety. 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 offer to help 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.
Don't get frustrated
Part of suffering from severe levels of anxiety can be a lack of willingness to engage in your hobbies, job, or social activities. Remember, if your loved one cuts themself off from social activities or friends and family, it's their defense mechanism kicking in.
Don't take it personally and don't get frustrated if they aren't as engaged as you.
Don't expect immediate change
Recovery is a process. Over time, your loved one will develop strategies and techniques that help them to deal with their anxiety, slowly returning to normal life. Do everything you can to support, and not hinder, this process by gathering as much resolve and patience as you can.
Mental health doesn't change overnight. The issues that lead to a deterioration in their state of mind are likely complex and will take time to heal. Take this into consideration if you ever feel frustrated at what you perceive as a lack of progress. Give it time and it will come.
If your loved one hasn’t considered professional support and treatment, yet their anxiety is having a significant impact on their day-to-day life, it may worth exploring their options. Many effective treatments for anxiety are available today, including therapy and intensive inpatient hospital stays.
Part of these treatments is teaching strategies and methods that allow you to learn how to cope with anxiety., making long-term recovery a possibility. Extend your support by attending a GP appointment or assessment by mental health experts here at Priory, where we provide world-class treatment for anxiety. Join the thousands of people we've supported in theirt recovery from mental health difficulties.
In the hands of our expertise, you can receive a diagnosis and effective treatment plan to get your symptoms under control and regain your quality of life. To find out how, call us on 0800 840 3219 or get in touch via email.
For more information about the mental health services that Priory offer, download our brochure.Get our brochure