Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions and affects up to 18% of the population. Since it’s so common, it often gets brushed off or assumed to be only minor.
Those with anxiety would paint a different picture. It’s hard to relate to what they’re going through if you yourself don’t share that struggle. Here are four ways you can start with to help someone you know who is suffering.
Learn to Recognize Signs and Symptoms
If you’re not the one struggling with anxiety, you may not know or understand what you’re looking for. Learning about anxiety and the signs and symptoms that come along with it can help you help someone else.
Symptoms can be physical in nature but also may be emotional, physiological, or behavioral.
Physical symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling on edge
Anxious thought patterns include:
- Jumping to conclusions
- Persistent worrying
- Worst-case scenario thinking
- All-or-nothing thinking
Anxious behaviors include:
- Avoidance of situations that may cause fear or anxiety
- A need for reassurance
- Second-guessing more than what is considered normal
- Compulsive behaviors
Different people respond to their anxiety in different ways. There are fight-flight or freeze responses. How you respond is very likely different from how your friend, coworker, or loved one would. When you gain an understanding of how each of them is designed to work, you will be more capable of finding compassion for them.
Validate Their Feelings
While recent years have shed more light on the importance of caring for your mental health, there is still a stigma that surrounds it in many instances. Those who struggle with anxiety are fearful of past, present, or future factors. Changing that mindset or feeling a different way is easier said than done.
There’s a saying it’s okay not to be okay. It seems simple, yet anyone struggling with anxiety probably needs to hear it. Provide that reassurance and validate what they’re feeling.
Anxiety can be hard to manage, and creating a safe space for them to be comfortable in will go a long way. If you don’t understand why they’re anxious or the source, that’s okay. Provide them support nonetheless.
Avoid Platitudes Like Telling Them to Calm Down
One of the most common responses people with anxiety receive is to calm down. While it may seem innocent enough or come from a well-intentioned place, it can be felt like a dagger.
Saying calm down disregards all of their feelings as unimportant or insignificant. If anyone suffering from anxiety could just turn it off, they would gladly and willingly do so. They experience distress, emotional turmoil, and physical symptoms every time their anxiety kicks in.
Provide helpful statements that show your understanding and support. Offer them help. Give them a listening ear. Be a support system for them in times of need.
Help Them Help Themselves
Educate yourself on options for coping with anxiety. This way, you can provide helpful insight and direction when they need it the most.
Encouraging productive behaviors may seem obvious or common sense to you, but remember you’re on the outside. Being able to identify these things when in the midst of anxiety is more difficult.
One great starting exercise is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. You can provide guided cues while they complete the activity. Find five things that they can visibly see, four things that they feel, three things that they can hear, two things that they can smell, and one thing they can taste. It’s simple, can be done anywhere, and is effective at re-centering when anxiety is creeping in.
In addition to that, discourage substances that may exacerbate feelings of anxiousness. Anxiety can lead to drinking or substance use to help alleviate or take the edge off symptoms experienced. Unfortunately, this can snowball into a larger addiction problem. Let them know you’re concerned and encourage healthier coping strategies.
Don’t be afraid to encourage them to reach out to a mental health specialist for support. There is nothing wrong with admitting to ourselves that we are struggling in some aspect. To some degree, most people are.