Helping Someone with Anxiety
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Helping Someone with Anxiety
Anxiety is a common mental health difficulty faced by people with all ages and from all backgrounds. The way in which those around an anxiety sufferer react to this condition can have a massive impact on the extent to which they manage their symptoms and, ultimately, on their quality of life. This article will cover the essential facts you need to keep in mind when you are helping someone with anxiety. You may be a friend, relative or co-worker, or simply someone who wants to better understand what it is to live with chronic worry and stress. This guide will help you develop a sympathetic and understanding approach.
The most important thing to bear in mind when helping someone with anxiety is that the anxiety sufferer is in no way responsible for their condition. It can be frustrating to watch someone become worried or upset for what appears to be no good reason at all, but you must take care not to communicate your attitude in either your words or your body language. People with anxiety often feel ‘silly’ or ‘wrong’ for feeling as they do, and experiencing further judgement will not make their symptoms disappear. In fact, it will make them worse, as they will have to contend not only with their original anxiety issues but also your negative attitude. Act as though you believe in their innate ability overcome their own problems. When they appear to take a step forward, for example in overcoming a particular fear, congratulate them.
At the same time, you must take care not to assume the role of psychologist or doctor, particularly if you have little or no knowledge about anxiety or mental health more generally. It can be dangerous to give unqualified advice, even if it is well-meaning. Instead, make it your mission to understand the anxiety sufferer’s problems in as much depth as possible. For instance, if you are unsure exactly why your friend is uneasy about taking part in social situations, ask them. When you are in a private place and they appear relaxed, ask them whether they would mind you asking a few questions about their anxiety. Emphasize that you will never pressure them to answer your questions, but that in order to best support them, you would like to try and understand their experiences.
Many people with anxiety feel as though they cannot talk about their issues with anyone, so your offer to listen and understand may be met with gratitude. If so, simply focus on what they have to say. You do not have to offer them any great insights or guidance – just maintain eye contact, nod your head and smile encouragingly as appropriate. However, it is also possible that you will be told that they don’t want to talk to you about their problems. If so, do not take their reaction personally. Anxiety and other mental health disorders are deeply personal and painful issues for many people, and they may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to talk to you. If so, take care to let them know that if they change your mind, you will still be happy to listen in the future. Then gracefully change the subject.
Some people who suffer with anxiety experience episodes of intense worry known as panic attacks. When a panic attack hits, a sufferer will experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms which are deeply unpleasant and may appear alarming to onlookers. For example, during a panic attack an anxiety sufferer will often experience many of the following: Shortness of breath, feelings of light-headedness, chest tension, chest pain, a racing heart, an increased tendency to sweat, hot or cold flashes, feelings of impending doom, and feelings of nausea. They may be convinced that they are going ‘crazy’ or ‘going mad.’ These attacks may manifest as responses to particular situations (such as in the presence of spiders if the person is arachnophobia), or appear with no apparent cause.
If someone has a panic attack, you can support them by taking a few simple steps. The most important step is to remind the person that a panic attack cannot hurt or kill them, even when their symptoms feel deeply unpleasant. Remind them that what they are feeling is the natural result of a nervous system sent into overdrive. If they have panic attacks on a regular basis, remind them that they have survived previous incidents, and so the odds are good that they will make it through this one unscathed as well.
If possible, guide the anxiety sufferer to a quiet place or corner of the room. Ask them to sit down with their head between their knees if they feel light-headed or dizzy. Remind them that many of their symptoms are a result of disrupted breathing patterns commonly triggered by feelings of anxiety, and that it may help them recover faster if they adjust their breathing. Ask them to take slow, deep breaths. After a few minutes they ought to start feeling better. Try to strike a balance between showing your care on one hand and inadvertently ‘rewarding’ panic attacks with attention on the other.
If you are friends with, related to, or in a relationship with an anxiety sufferer then it is important that you take care of your own needs as well as theirs. Being willing and able to listen to your loved one’s problems is a noble act, but you have no obligation to sacrifice your own wellbeing or activities in order to act as their emotional punch bag. It is completely reasonable to say that you need a break from acting as a source of emotional support, and provided you voice this in a sensitive fashion, your friend, relative or partner should understand. If not, you must reiterate that whilst you care for them and truly want their health to improve, you are not going to sacrifice your own wellbeing for their sake.
In conclusion, helping someone with anxiety can be both difficult and rewarding. As long as you take the time and effort to understand the anxiety sufferer’s problems, reinforce positive steps forward and take care of your own needs, you will be acting as a good influence in their life.