How do you respond when someone in your life tells you that they’re struggling with anxiety? How do you make them feel calm and safe in your presence?
In simpler terms, how do you help them?
Anxiety disorder is distinct from normal anxiety in the sense that the latter usually stems from a stressor and is temporary, while the former is more generalised and persistent. Dealing with anxiety can be challenging and frustrating, not just for the person suffering from it, but for others in their lives as well. When your friend or loved one is struggling with anxiety, it can be confusing and emotionally demanding for you as you try to find the right thing to say, or figure out the reason they are feeling this way so that you can offer a solution.
Helping out and being there for a person with anxiety is no simple task. But there are certain tips and general do’s and don'ts you can follow to make it easier for you as well as your friend.
1. Create a safe space
Let your friend or loved one know that you’re there for them. Let them know that they can be open about their thoughts and emotions, and most importantly, let them know that they will not be judged. Make them understand that you want to listen to them and be there for them and not just as an obligation because anxiety can heighten feelings of self-doubt.
2. Listen; Just Listen!
It can be really tempting to try and understand the root cause of someone’s anxiety and try and help them by giving advice and solutions. Remember that you don’t have to try and fix them and that you are not expected to come up with a solution to every one of their problems. Doing so could cause more harm than good and can be draining for both you and your friend. So when they talk to you about their issues and feelings, listen without prejudices and make them feel heard. Rather than assuming what they need to do to feel better, just ask them how you can support them.
3. Always set your boundaries
Helping your friend in need of support is truly amazing, but DO NOT take it up as the single most important task in your life. This can be really overwhelming for both of you and can create unrealistic expectations and disappointments in the long run. So as you let them know that you’re there for them, also be clear of your boundaries. Prioritise your mental and physical well being as well as your needs, wants, and responsibilities as an individual when you have to.
4. Show your appreciation
Anxiety can permeate all aspects of life. This can cause a person to just think of them in terms of their anxious thoughts, and often makes them fail to recognise they are much more than that. The negative aspects of everything would seem amplified and the positive things in life may seem diminished. Words of praise and gratitude for their presence and efforts can go a long way.
Anxiety, like all mental issues, manifests differently for everyone. These tips can be applied generally, but always be perceptive of the situation. And even if you feel like you’re not in a position to help someone, never invalidate what they’re feeling, and always be kind and considerate.