Do you have a friend or family member who lives with chronic anxiety? Do you find it difficult to know how to best support them? This one is for you…
When I first started my private practice a few years back I assumed the bulk of my work would revolve around a particular ‘niche’, a particular passion of mine. But, if I’m totally honest with you, I would say that a good 70% of my work is now anxiety related. As a result, chronic anxiety has become an area of interest that I keenly peruse and strive to understand more about.
Essentially, chronic anxiety can stem from all sorts of life traumas and individual circumstances so I feel it’s important to share as much anxiety related content as possible, regardless of why women are reaching out to me.
So, with that in mind, I thought I would share some important ways you can best support someone in your life who is experiencing chronic anxiety. No matter when the anxiety started, what sustains it or what help the person is or is not currently receiving, these tips are useful for all support people or loved ones who are struggling with how to best support the important person in their lives.
First things first… remember… anxiety is a mental health issue. Your loved one is not ‘sick’ or ‘broken’ or ‘useless’. They just live with anxiety and need to be loved on, hard.
Ok here we go, 5 ways you can support someone with anxiety…
Separate the person from their anxiety
How to support an anxious person lesson 101… your loved one is not their anxiety and their anxiety is not them. Anxiety is something they carry with them as they live an otherwise normal, everyday life, just like you or I do. When their anxiety flares up remember to acknowledge what is at play. Remind yourself that they are not broken. That they do not need ‘fixing’. That they are not ‘stupid’ or ‘hopeless’. That they do not need your ‘sympathy’. What they need is your understanding. By creating space between the person and their anxiety you slow yourself enough to respond to the person rather than to react to the anxiety.
Hear them out and leave your judgment at the door
People living with anxiety often report feeling like people don’t understand them and like they are ‘difficult’ to deal with. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is the gift of your respectful curiosity. If you understand someone, you will be more helpful to them in the long run. So, approach the anxiety with a curious and open mind. When the person is calm and otherwise happy, ask them if they would mind if you asked them about the anxiety. If they are ok with it, ask them questions like “What does it feel like?”… “What do you wish people knew about anxiety?” … “What are some of the helpful things I can do to support you when the anxiety is flaring up?”. When you show your own vulnerability and admit that you too can learn and do better, your loved one will likely feel more confident in sharing their inner most thoughts with you. Subsequently, you will be able to better support them!
Be solution focussed not problem focused
By all accounts, living with anxiety can be exhausting and really frustrating. When you feel anxious everything feels like an issue or a challenge. Your heart is heavy and your shoulders feel like a 400 tonne truck is parked on them. So, one of the best ways you can help someone through an anxious moment is to recognise the individual issues and focus on the solutions, the relief, rather than the problems themselves. There is always plenty of time for talking about problems when the anxiety has eased. But, in the thick of it, attend to the anxious person’s needs and look to provide immediate support rather than next level analysis and reflection. Solutions are LIGHT and problems are HEAVY.
Understand that your loved one isn’t SICK
Would you like someone labelling you as ‘sick’? Would you like to experience the dehumanising moment of shame and embarrassment where someone implies, often mercilessly, that you need help? Probably not. So, act from that space. Support from that space. Treat your loved one with the utmost respect and praise them, regularly, for the way they handle something so challenging. I can almost guarantee you that someone will respond to you more kindly if you first extend kindness to them. Be patient. Be tolerant. Give them grace to go through what they need to go through. Be a prop that waits in the wings ready for its moment to step in and take action.
Unconditional positive regard (UPR)
This concept, of U.P.R, is one of the first things you learn during counselling studies. When we consider someone respectfully and politely, regardless of their actions or experiences, we hold space for them to learn, grow, heal, change… whatever it is. You likely know yourself, that wonderful feeling of someone having your back. The person who doesn’t give up on you. The person who allows you to feel your feels and make progress at your own pace. It’s simple but so empowering. When we feel loved, supported and accepted, exactly as we are, we are more inspired to take action. And, when we help others to feel good about themselves, we set them up for success… whatever their story! So, with your anxious loved one in mind, I implore you to accept them wholeheartedly. With or without anxiety.
So, there you have it… 5 ways you can support someone with anxiety.
I really hope this article helps you better support that super special someone in your life. Of course, if you enjoyed this article and found it valuable, please share it. Sharing my articles means more women are able to find me and get the support they want.
As a side note, you may also enjoy reading these articles of mine;
And, you can also grab some fabulous books about anxiety that I have personally read, enjoyed and found helpful…
Until next week…
Yours in better mental health,
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!