How to Help Friends & Loved Ones With Anxiety
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own stress, worries, and fears. Managing your mental health is important, but sometimes a loved one may be struggling more and is in need of your help. If a friend or family member is having a hard time with anxiety, reach out to offer them support. Even the offer itself can be a big help, and it will help you feel better, too.
Learn to Recognize the Signs of Anxiety
Everyone knows how it feels to be anxious. However, it’s less easy to recognize the ways in which other people express their anxiety. Some turn their feelings inward and hide them. In order to help someone you care about, you need to recognize the signs of anxiety in other people. Everyone is different, of course, but these are some common clues:
- They worry a lot, even about minor things, and tend to assume the worst is going to happen.
- They avoid places, situations, and people that make them nervous.
- They constantly seek reassurance and second-guess their actions and thoughts.
- They have physical issues with no underlying medical condition, such as difficulty sleeping, nausea, gastrointestinal upset, sweating and lightheadedness.
- They have difficulty concentrating or completing tasks.
- They exhibit unusual behavioural changes, such as declines in work or school performance, poor hygiene, mood swings or social withdrawal.
How to Help Someone With Anxiety
The most important thing you can do for someone overwhelmed with anxiety is to mention your concerns and encourage them to see a mental health professional. They may have an anxiety disorder that can be treated. Here are some other ways you can support them:
- Do your own research. Learn more about anxiety to be a more compassionate friend. This may not come as a surprise, but for people dealing with anxiety, having to explain their behaviour and symptoms can be, well, anxiety-inducing. Seeking out information on your own will show your loved one that you want to support them and understand how this illness is affecting them.
- Be a good listener. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is listen. Anxious people often feel like their anxiety is a burden to those around them and choose to bottle it up instead of talking it out, which can make things worse. Let your friend or loved one know that they can talk about how they feel. Acknowledge their feelings and listen without judgement.
- Let them be anxious. They can’t easily control their anxiety, and trying to talk them out of it can exacerbate the issue. Just let them know you’re there, you get it, and that they can feel safe being anxious around you.
- Ask them what they need. Instead of trying to tell your friend what to do to feel better, ask them. Anxiety is different for everyone, and your loved one has likely been living with its debilitating effects for awhile. They know what’s best for them. Let them tell you what you can do to help.
- Keep checking in. Anxiety comes and goes, so keep checking in to see how your friend is feeling. Encourage them to speak up and let you know when they’re becoming more anxious or if they feel a panic attack coming on.
These are all great ways to help your loved one manage anxiety. A final way you can be there for them is by practicing relaxation techniques together. Meditation and breathwork are great tools for managing anxiety. BetterSleep recently released a new breathing exercise called Heart Coherence which can decrease anxiety by reducing the body’s physiological responses to stress. Try it together for accountability and to help them stay on track. Being there for a loved one in their most vulnerable moments is one of the best ways to show them you care.
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