With people now placing importance on mental health, more people are opening themselves up to therapy and seeking professional help. This also means that there’s a surge of people that are getting diagnosed. While the cause maybe because of the changing times, it’s also possible that the increase in numbers is due to people getting themselves checked.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, especially in North America. But it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, as anyone could have anxiety. If someone close to you has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you might want to know more about how you could help them.
Here are some ways you could help any of your loved ones who’ve been diagnosed with anxiety:
- Learning About Anxiety Disorder
When it comes to mental illnesses, it’s important to learn more about them. It’s the same way you would respond to other physical ailments or disorders. Finding out more about the causes, symptoms, and how they could be treated is essential for family and friends to know.
In doing so, you could have a better chance of understanding and empathize with their circumstances and what they’re going through. If you don’t have any mental illnesses, it might be challenging to understand their feelings and thought processes. Therefore, it might be better to learn more about anxiety from trusted sources.
- Don’t Forget About The Misconceptions
When trying to learn about anxiety, it’s easy to run into misconceptions and inaccurate information. It’s important that you don’t perpetuate any of these myths and misconceptions. To start, here are some of the common fallacies about anxiety.
- Anxiety is a made-up illness
- Anxiety will eventually go away
- You have to be nervous to get anxiety
- Everyone gets anxiety
- Anxiety medications are addictive
- People with anxiety should avoid any stressors
- Exercising and a better diet can cure anxiety
- People with anxiety have to be enabled
- Give Them A Safe Space
Safe spaces are important for those who have mental illnesses. A safe space is a place where your friends or family could talk about uncomfortable topics that they might not be able to discuss with others.
For some, anxiety could be exhausting because they continuously have to put their guard up and function. Some have described the feeling to be like putting up an act of normalcy just to get through the day. Sometimes, anxiety could also cause some detrimental effects to the body, not just exhaustion.
With a safe space, people you love could have the opportunity to be who they are without any judgment. They wouldn’t have to worry about explaining or getting unwanted opinions from other people.
In a safe space, it’s essential to support each other. It’s also a respectful environment where any of the members could talk about their struggles or other topics that they could trust each other with.
- Be There For Them
There’s also a misconception that it’s challenging to support friends and family with anxiety. But one of the simple ways you could help them is to simply be there for them.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be where they are all the time, although being physically present might be helpful on certain occasions. Being there for them means giving time to someone, whether it’s just for a short conversation in person, on a call, or by messaging.
When you give your time to them, it also means that you’re entirely present and that you pay attention. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to talk to someone who might be distracted on their phone or something else.
In line with being there for your loved ones, it’s important to truly listen to them, especially since they trust you with their experiences. But it’s understandable how listening to someone might be difficult, too–sitting there and just watching them as you listen might feel unnatural. You might also be afraid to say something that could trigger them or misrepresent what you mean.
To help you out, here are some things you could say to express yourself:
- Tell them that you’re always there for them
- Ask them about what you could do to help
- Tell them you’ve noticed that they’ve been struggling
- Gently voice out that you’re worried about them
On the opposite end, here are some things that might not be helpful:
- Talking about yourself and comparing your experiences
- Talking them into solutions like getting more exercise or reading a self-help book
- Asking them repetitive questions about how they are
- Telling them that they’re overly dramatic
- Telling them that they should be on medication
- Forcing them to see a therapist
- Be Patient
It’s important to be patient when helping friends and family who have anxiety. When they’re going through things, it’s already difficult for them. So, seeing their loved ones and friends getting frustrated and impatient isn’t going to be helpful. In reality, it might even add to the anxiety they’re already feeling.
Although it might be frustrating to see them improve and then regress, it’s essential to understand that progress isn’t linear. There will always be rough patches and struggles while they’re coping with an anxiety disorder.
- Don’t Judge
When they open up to you, it means that they’re letting down their defenses and trusting you. So, during this time, it’s important not to judge them and make them feel bad about what they’re going to share.
While it seems like some people are naturally more empathetic, it’s actually a skill that you can practice. But the key isn’t to view their experiences from your own lenses. To help you out, here are some ways you could empathetically respond:
- That must be difficult.
- You must be feeling really hurt.
- That sounds terrible.
Here are some things that you might want to avoid if you want to be more empathetic:
- You’ll get over it
- You’re strong, so you’ll be fine
- Other people have it worse
- Don’t Be Too Pushy
You might also be tempted to give them some advice that has worked for you. Perhaps you were watching a video about how yoga has helped people with their mental illnesses. You might’ve read about how going outdoors could soothe anxiety disorders. While some activities could help ease anxiety, being too pushy about it might put unnecessary pressure and stress on them.
Perhaps you might even know a great therapist, and you want them to set an appointment. Even if this comes from a place of concern, it might not be the best way to go about it. Some people who struggle with mental illness might not have good skills at setting their boundaries. Because of this, they’ll struggle with saying no. So, even if they feel uncomfortable with any of your advice, they might have an internal struggle and stress about dealing with the situation.
- Be Proud Of Their Progress
The next thing you could do to make them feel good is to be proud of their progress. For instance, if they’ve decided to go to therapy, it helps to recognize the value of this progress. But it’s not just for big steps, like seeking help. Showing them that you acknowledge their hard work, even for things that other people might think are worth being proud of.
Each person goes through different struggles of different intensities. Even if two people have anxiety, one might struggle with a particular task that the other finds easy. This is why recognizing unique achievements to the person important to you could make a huge difference.
- Take Care Of Yourself, Too
Finally, you’ll have to take care of yourself, too. Supporting people who have anxiety or other mental illness can cause a phenomenon called ‘transference.’ This is when feelings and expectations from one person are redirected to another. While helping your loved one, they could redirect some of their emotions to you, which might be positive or negative. Transference could also affect your relationship.
With this said, it’s a good idea to take care of your mental health, too, especially when you feel like your boundaries are being crossed in the process of helping your friend or family member. While it feels good to help others, you might forget to care for your needs, too. So, setting boundaries, saying no, and communicating to them about your personal needs might be helpful.
In a safe space, it’s not only about one person but everyone. So, it should be a good opportunity for you to voice out that you need some time for yourself because you’re feeling under the weather or a little overwhelmed. This way, you could indicate that it’s not because you’re angry or upset about them. It’s only healthy to step away and take a break when your mind and body call for it.
Even if you’re not a therapist or a mental health expert, you could still support your friends and family if they have an anxiety disorder. Doing so will take some research and understanding about their condition. This way, you could see it from an informed point of view. But in the end, listening, being empathetic, staying patient, and taking care of yourself would be some of the most helpful ways you can do to lend them a hand.