5 Ways You Can Help Somebody With Anxiety
Anxiety disorders can display in a variety of different ways. Many people experience some sort of nervousness during their lifetime, but it’s not always exactly related to an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety know just how debilitating and discouraging anxiety can be in daily life.
There is a distinct difference between feeling anxious and developing an anxiety disorder. When a person is undergoing an anxiety attack related to their disorder, it can be difficult to know how to help them.
To best support someone with anxiety, you need to learn their specific needs. To learn more about the different ways in which you can help someone with anxiety, keep reading.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety disorders impact up to 40 million people in the United States, meaning it is the most common mental illness that people in the country are diagnosed with. However, it is a very complex disorder making it difficult to describe or fit into specific criteria.
There are various signs of anxiety, levels of anxiety, and types of anxiety — each can display its own mental or physical symptoms, and each requires different treatment options to offer support.
It is an extremely treatable disorder, especially with all of the information that is out there about it and how it manifests, yet only one-third of those with it get help. This might be related to the idea that anxiety is something you just have to deal with, and everyone sometimes feels anxious.
While it’s true that everyone may feel anxious at some point in their lives, it is not normal to have anxiety consume your life or make easy tasks difficult. To best help someone who suffers from anxiety, you should be aware of what kind they suffer from. This will give you a better understanding of the ways you can help.
How Does Anxiety Manifest?
Anxiety disorders are too complex to define by one set of criteria. Mental health professionals have broken anxiety disorders into several diagnoses more specific to what a person becomes anxious about.
Some of the more common anxiety disorders we see today are: General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Panic Disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
People who experience excessive anxiety over multiple parts of their life and well-being struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This may encompass other kinds of anxiety disorders and is the more general diagnosis a person could get. People with GAD can experience anxiety about work, home, social settings, safety, health, timing, and much more.
People with social anxiety disorder may fear how they are perceived in social situations. They might become nervous about being rejected or viewed negatively by the people around them, generating severe anxiety and making it very difficult for them to calm down. Most people with social anxiety do not seek out large group settings and prefer to avoid going out.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the more complex anxiety disorders because it is a mental health condition that develops after experiencing some form of trauma. Not everyone with PTSD experiences the same trauma; their anxiety might be displayed differently.
A person who has been in an abusive relationship, witnessed violence, or endured situations no person should ever have to might become more anxious when things in their environment trigger them, even long after the event has occurred.
People with panic disorder can experience intense panic attacks due to a trigger or for no reason at all. They have recurring periods of feeling intense fear and discomfort.
Many people with panic disorders can feel when it’s coming on but do not know how to stop the attack from happening. Panic attacks can last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.
How Do I Help Someone With Anxiety?
The treatment plan for someone with anxiety will look different for each individual. If you want to know how to help, you must do more than show up.
While being there for someone who struggles with anxiety can be very comforting, having tangible actions you can provide takes the weight off the anxious person to overcome their anxiety. Having anxious thoughts can make a person think that everyone around them is judging them.
They might try to do everything in their power to not show their anxiety to those around them, trying to deal with everything internally rather than ask for help. However, there are some things you can do to help someone suffering from anxiety.
1. Learn the Signs and Symptoms
The first thing you can do is learn the signs and symptoms of a person’s specific anxiety disorder. Everyone with an anxiety disorder suffers for different reasons, and educating yourself on their specific needs makes you feel more useful.
Some of the following are signs and symptoms of anxiety:
Tremors and shakes
Shortness of breath
Self-soothing behaviors (twirling hair, rubbing their hands together, biting their nails)
Feelings of panic
Feeling out of control
By also understanding a person’s triggers, you can help to keep them safe and calm. You aren’t expected to rescue a person from ever experiencing a trigger again, but being aware of your surroundings when with them and avoiding possible stress can help ease their hypervigilance.
2. Listen Without Invalidating Them
When a person wants to come forward and speak about their anxiety disorder, you need to be open to listening. You might not fully understand why someone has anxiety or why it occurs, but that doesn’t matter. Most of the time, people with anxiety can hardly answer why they have it; they just do.
While we don’t want to feed into a person’s anxiety, especially when they are not in danger, we don’t want to invalidate how they feel. What they are feeling is not unreal; it just might be an improper reaction to a trigger.
By gently showing them how they might be misjudging certain situations or overthinking, you can help bring them back to reality. Sometimes all a person with an anxiety disorder needs is to be shown that they are safe gently and lovingly.
Various support groups are available for those struggling with anxiety and related mental health problems, ranging from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other professional help options, even including antianxiety medications.
3. Understand Their Coping Mechanisms
Everyone with anxiety will have their own methods of coping. Knowing a person’s coping methods can be useful when they experience anxiety.
When you go through anxiety, you can essentially black out — where you don’t know what’s going on but know the sense of panic you feel is real. You can learn how to help ground someone during these moments.
Practice deep breathing exercises with them as they enter an anxious state of mind, or ask if they would like to go on a walk. Deep pressure therapy can be helpful, so be prepared to help if they like to be held tightly or wrapped up in blankets while they suffer an attack.
Talk with your friend or family member about what they need from you when they enter this state of anxiety. It will help you to feel less useless when they begin experiencing anxiety.
4. Do Not Enable Them
It’s important not to feed into their anxiety by confusing them further about the legitimacy of their thoughts and feelings. The goal is to be supportive but not assist in the further spiraling in their head.
You should not play therapist with someone struggling with anxiety, especially if you are not a clinical therapist! Offer words of encouragement, and feel free to share what has worked for you.
Lastly, do not encourage a person with an anxiety disorder to numb their anxiety with the use of substances. This can be particularly damaging if a person becomes dependent on these substances to feel better.
5. Introduce Them to Sober Sidekick
When someone struggles with anxiety, they can benefit from being able to communicate with others who have gone through similar problems. Talking to someone who has had anxiety and has used unhealthy coping mechanisms can give your loved one a sense of togetherness. They might not feel so alone when surrounded by people who have shared experiences.
Consider introducing the app Sober Sidekick to your loved one struggling with anxiety. The app allows people to learn about healthy coping mechanisms, promotes staying away from the use of substances when dealing with mental health disorders, and allows access to medical professionals when a person needs them.
Download today on Android or iPhone to see what being around a community of people who are seeking healthier forms of help to get them through their dark times.
Anxiety Disorders - Facts & Statistics | Anxiety & Depression Association of America
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Overview of Evidence-Based Assessment and Treatment | NCBI