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Supporting a Loved One with Anxiety

Watching a loved one struggle with anxiety can be painful. Learn how you can identify signs of distress in loved ones, and check out simple strategies to help them cope better.

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The world today is a breeding ground for worry and anxiety. With the outbreak of the virus, many of us might find ourselves feeling anxious and afraid. 

Anxiety is a condition characterised by thoughts about the future that create feelings of tension and nervousness. While some level of anxiety can be good for you – it can keep you on your toes, ready to deal with difficulties – when this worry becomes excessive, it can lead to various problems – some of which may cause serious emotional and physical damage. 

To avoid the same, it is important to be aware of your emotions and to make sure you address your distress in a timely and healthy manner. The same is true for anyone you know who might be experiencing excessive anxiety. In fact, there’s a lot you can do to help a friend or family member who is struggling with anxiety.

Here are some things you can do:

Be aware

The first step to helping someone with their anxiety is knowing enough about anxiety and its symptoms. This can enable you to recognise signs of concern in a loved one. Educating yourself also makes you more empathetic towards your loved one – which in itself will help them feel better. Knowing what not to say or do is as important as knowing what to say or do when your loved one is worried. Learn about anxiety from credible sources.

Be supportive

It is possible that a situation that worries your friend/family member seems harmless to you. However, try and realise that a situation may be viewed differently by different people, and everyone experiences anxiety in a different way. Asking your loved one to ignore worries that are insignificant to you can make them feel misunderstood and alienated. It’s important for you to not dismiss them; instead, acknowledge that what they are going through is real. This will make them feel supported, and can also reduce their anxiety.

Listen

At times, someone who is feeling anxious might want nothing else but for you to hear them out. Moreover, in many cases, you might not even be able to do anything but listen to your loved one. Allow them to express how they feel and use encouraging words such as  ‘hmm’, or ‘I see’ to indicate that you are paying attention. Ask them if they want your suggestions or advice, and if they don’t, just be there for them and listen. 

Be sensitive

If you’re aware that certain situations or people cause unusual distress to your friend, try to shield them from such situations until they are better prepared. This does not mean you must encourage them to avoid their worries. Instead you can try talking them through it in order to help them feel calmer.

Plan activities

Physical exercise, yoga, talking to people, listening to music and other activities can protect an individual from anxiety. Making time for enjoyable activities can enhance feelings of happiness through the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Find out what your loved one likes doing and what they associate good, happy memories with. Encourage them to start doing these activities. If need be, join them while at it. 

Use grounding

If you see your loved one in distress, you could try ‘grounding’ them. Grounding, as the name suggests, involves using your senses to focus on the present moment. Ask them to focus on your voice and hands (the latter if they’re able to see you) and make them answer basic, fun questions in order to distract them from whatever is overwhelming them. You can even encourage them to do this on their own – ask them to observe what they can see, hear, feel and smell in their surroundings.

Encourage them to seek support

Getting help for mental health, unfortunately, is not a widely accepted idea. If you notice that your loved one’s anxiety is stopping them from living fully, is becoming increasingly frequent, or is in any other way becoming a cause of concern, you can encourage them to seek support from a professional who can help them manage their worry better. Reaching out to a professional can be a very hard experience – so be patient and celebrate each small step that they take towards their betterment. 

Take care of yourself

Looking after someone who worries excessively can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being. Thus, it is important to ensure that your own needs are taken care of. You can do so by having your own social support, setting clear boundaries and allowing yourself to have ‘me-time’ frequently.

In times of distress, people often struggle to talk about their feelings. If you know anyone who might need some support with anxiety right now, don’t hesitate to do your bit to help them. You never know, a little nudge from your side might be exactly what they need to break their silence and to feel better.

References:

Effective Recognition and Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Primary Care. (2004). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC427612/

Green, C. (2020, January 14). How To Help A Stressed Or Depressed Loved One. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-help-a-stressed-or-depressed-loved-one/

How to Help Someone With Anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201607/how-help-someone-anxiety

Pippin, C. (1970, January 18). 36 People Share How They’ve Helped Friends Through Their Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseypippin/little-things-you-can-do-for-a-loved-one-with-anxiety?utm_term=.li9Per242#.ebKl2V757

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