When someone you care about is experiencing anxiety, it’s not always easy to know how you can help.
What can you say or do to make things better? You can’t take those feelings away, and the last thing you want to do is to make things worse.
Don’t worry, you won’t.
The fact that you’re there is more of a support than you’d think.
On top of that, though, there are some practical ways you can be the best support possible. So in line with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, here’s some expert advice on helping someone you care about manage their anxiety.
Validate Their Feelings
When someone's experiencing the symptoms of anxiety, it can often feel like they're going through it alone.
But the reality couldn't be any different.
Global statistics show that anxiety disorders are common around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 3.6% — or about 264 million individuals worldwide — have an anxiety disorder. What's more, 4.6% of females and 2.6% of males are affected by anxiety in some form.
Although these figures may seem alarming, the fact that so many people are in the same boat may help validate someone's feelings (although keep in mind that even though it's relatively common, it doesn't mean its not traumatic for the person experiencing it).
Let them know that it's OK to feel this way, that you are here to listen, and that there are ways that they can manage their anxiety and a wide range of support available to them.
Giving someone a safe space to open up is one of the best ways you can support them. Be patient and try and avoid the urge to 'fix' the problem. You don't have to have all the answers; offering your ear is often enough.
"Don't underestimate how valuable listening to your friend or family is. Being able to be supportive of their experience can make a significant difference. It's often those small moments of listening that can help someone who's experiencing anxiety to reground into their day," says Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R.
And that first conversation can make it easier to share things going forwards. So when they need someone to talk to in future, they'll feel comfortable coming to you.
Simply Be There
As much as you’d like to be, it’s not always realistic to say you’ll be there 24/7.
We all have our own commitments, don’t we?
The thing is: just letting someone know you’ll make time for them is a comfort in itself.
“Having this conversation gives the person a chance to see that they have people who care about them, who want to listen and who want them to feel better. Someone suffering from anxiety could also tell you ways you can help manage their anxiety symptoms,” recommends Dr Renju Joseph (MBBS, MD, LLM, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne.
Offer Practical Support
If and when the person you're supporting asks, you can step in with some practical help. For example, this could be little things like helping them organise their to-dos or going along with them to an appointment. Just be sure to listen, support their decisions and let them lead the way.
"Try not to put pressure on your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with. It's really important to be patient, listen to their wishes and take things at a pace that feels okay for them," recommends Mind.
You can help someone experiencing anxiety slow things down by encouraging soothing, self-care activities.
And, the good thing is, self-care doesn't have to mean solo. By listening, you can plan activities together or apart.
Whilst morning mindfulness or opting to read over scrolling before bed are great ways to self-soothe, there are plenty of activities you can do together. And this can help you both maintain a relationship that isn't built around anxiety, something the experts believe is important to bear in mind.
"While it's important for people to feel able to open up about anxiety, try to make sure that this isn't the only thing that your relationship focuses on. Remind them that anxiety doesn't define a person; they are much more than anxiety. Encourage them to do things that they enjoy, such as exercising, spending time outdoors and socialising," recommend the experts at Anxiety UK.
Look After Yourself
When you're supporting someone else, it can be easy to forget about yourself.
After all, you're not the one who's having a hard time. So you're not the priority, right?
Well, it might sound counterintuitive, but you need to put yourself first in order to help. If you don't look after your own needs, you can't be the best support for your loved one. So try and keep to your routine as best you can and understand your own limits. You can't pour from an empty cup.
Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, anxiety is just too difficult to manage together - not to mention alone.
That’s OK. There are lots of organisations that can help. Whether it’s direct support for them in managing their anxiety or advice for yourself as a carer, here are some useful resources and contacts.
Please note that the following organisations are UK and US-based, but many resources are accessible online.
Anxiety UK - from general advice around coping with panic attacks to specific breathing and relaxation exercises, Anxiety UK has a number of free downloadable resources online. You can also contact the organisation at 03444 775 774 (helpline) or 07537 416 905 (text).
Anxiety Care UK - this organisation can point you towards a variety of mental health support services. These include support groups and face-to-face-counselling for anxiety.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) - from self-help books to a directory of ADAA-approved therapists, this organisation has a wide variety of online resources. Please note: the ADAA does not provide direct psychiatric, psychological, or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. So if you do feel like you are in a crisis, please dial 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Anxiety Resource Center - this organisation has links to specific topics like agoraphobia, workplace stress and advice for loved ones who are supporting someone with anxiety.
No More Panic - No More Panic provides information, support and advice for people suffering from panic disorders, anxiety, phobias or OCD, including an online forum and chat room.
No Panic - this organisation provides a helpline (0300 7729844), step-by-step programmes, and support for people with anxiety disorders. You can also sign up for free monthly support emails on their website.
Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK) - TOP UK can point you towards self-help therapy groups and general support around OCD, phobias and related anxiety disorders.
Other Useful Numbers
NHS 111 – 24 hour helpline (call 111)
Samaritans - 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Mind – call 0300 123 3393 and email firstname.lastname@example.org
CALM - crisis line: 0800 58 58 58 (5 pm-midnight)