Take a good look at your anxious friend or family member.
Has worry shaken his or her confidence?
Does fear or regret cause him or her to pull away from people who care?
Are overreaction and negativity shortchanging his or her best life?
Anxiety can make life very small and scary. From the outside, you want to reassure and comfort. But you sense there’s more to recovery than positive thinking and willpower. You’re right.
Anxiety puts your loved one in a constant state of alarm.
To help, you need information and willing diligence. Consider the following ways you may be able to make a difference in your anxious loved one’s life:
Acknowledge: You don’t know what you don’t know.
Understanding this will reduce the amount of frustration and judgment you experience and lessen the amount of pressure you purposely or inadvertently put on your loved one. If you’ve never struggled with anxiety, don’t claim to “understand” or insist that your loved one “just calm down.” The pressure to please you, or the frustration at being misunderstood, can make anxiety worse.
Research: Find out. Read up. Ask an expert.
The more accurate information you have regarding your loved one’s anxiety, the better support you can be. Look closely at the behavior and symptoms. Check out websites and support groups that address family members trying to manage another person’s mental health issues. Seek out reliable information so that your responses to your loved one are helpful and productive.
Listen. Be there to hear the fear without judgment.
Let your loved one know that you are willing to hear them out. Allow him or her to share openly without worrying you will lose respect for them or make demands. Even if he or she repeatedly shares the same fear, try to listen patiently and respectfully. Be as available as possible to talk on the phone in particular. When worries overtake your loved one, it can be extremely comforting to know that when he or she needs a lifeline, you’ll pick up.
Stick around. Be there, be available, be you.
Your anxious loved one needs people. He or she may not realize it, but your presence helps temper the racing thoughts and his or her tendency to focus on inner worries and concerns. Be yourself, engage him or her in your life. Do things together:
- Try to get outdoors. Physical activity and exercise is important for relieving anxiety and stress.
- Drop by as often as possible. Establish routine visits that will help anchor your loved one’s week and ground his or her thoughts, giving him or her something and someone reassuring to look forward to.
- Make new memories. Encourage your loved one to try new things with you. Little by little, demonstrate that you believe he or she is more capable and stronger than they think. Have fun together. Laughter and new adventures can help draw attention away from constant worry.
Roll with it. Check your expectations.
It’s hard to watch your loved one suffer through the symptoms of general anxiety, social phobia, panic, or PTSD. It’s even harder to grasp that his or her condition just may not respond to logic or therapy immediately. Expecting your loved one to make a massive turnaround will only leave you feeling frustrated. It takes time to bring an anxiety disorder under control. Celebrate improvements and encourage when setbacks happen.
Forgive. Try not to hold anxiety against him or her.
Anxiety can alter the brain’s chemistry. Often people with anxiety are quickly irritated or angered. It’s not entirely controllable or intentional. His or her thoughts are running a mile a minute. He or she often feels out of control. That’s enough to bother anyone. Give as much grace as you can.
Be careful. Be sure to employ good self care practices.
Keep tabs on your own stress and anxiety. Your feelings affect others. If your loved one feels your tension and stress it will start to exacerbate his or her own. Take time for yourself when you need it, reassuring your loved one that you’ll return, and being sure to honor your commitment to be there for him or her.
Your loved one with anxiety needs you. Thank you for being there. Encourage him or her to seek professional help and volunteer to drive. Life we’ll be less scary with someone on his or her side.