Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives. Maybe you’re nervous about starting a new job, or maybe you have a test coming up next week that you’re worried about passing. For some people, these same feelings are present even when no stressors are causing them.
Regardless, it can be hard to see your friends and family becoming overwhelmed, upset, and nervous. It’s normal to want to help them, but how can you do that without making them feel worse?
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone with anxiety is just try your best to offer thoughtful support. Here are some tips for how you can show your loved ones you care.
How to Tell if Someone is Anxious
The first step towards helping someone with anxiety is recognizing the symptoms. If you can spot the signs early, you’ll be better equipped to help them alleviate their feelings before they become too severe.
Many symptoms of anxiety are hard to spot because they occur mentally. These symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- Persistent feelings of fear or worry, even in situations where these feelings are unnecessary
- Sensing impending doom or danger
- Having difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Trouble concentrating
However, these anxious feelings can present themselves physically. These are things that you might be able to look out for if you happen to notice that your friend or family member isn’t acting like themselves.
- Heavy breathing
- Sweating or trembling
- Lack of focus on given conversation, as if their mind is wandering
- Shaky hands, legs, or tapping feet
- Emotional outbursts or irritability
- Avoiding certain people, places, or activities
- Seeking reassurance
- Panic attacks
Some of these can be extremely subtle, and sometimes, individuals with anxiety will do their best to cover up their feelings and emotions out of embarrassment or guilt. But trying to be cognizant of these small details can help show people with anxiety that you’re caring and empathetic to their experience.
Lending a Hand
Offering assistance to people in your life who are struggling with anxiety can go a long way, but remember that anxiety manifests itself in different ways. Not everyone will respond to your compassion in the same way. The most important thing is to be patient and understanding.
Match Their Preferences
If a loved one is fairly open about their anxiety, it’s always best to ask them how they’d like to be supported. Some people prefer to be given a shoulder to cry on, some may ask you to try to push them to do uncomfortable things, and others may ask that you do nothing at all.
Respecting their wishes is the one of the most important things you can do.
It can be hard to see a friend or family member struggle with anxiety, but sometimes there’s not much you can do in stressful situations besides provide emotional support. One thing that you should try not to do is invalidate their feelings. Something that makes someone else anxious may not make you anxious, so it’s important to try to see things from new perspectives.
For example, instead of saying “You were being really weird the other day. It’s not that anxiety thing, is it?” try replacing it with “Hey! I noticed you seemed a little off when we had dinner yesterday. Is everything okay?”
See how a subtle shift in tone and voice can still relay the same information without invalidating their experiences. It shows that you aren’t mad at them — you genuinely want to help them out.
Put Things Into Perspective
Many people who are anxious about an upcoming event may start to think irrationally. For instance, if a friend is worried about a job interview, you can try to help them put things into perspective. Chances are, you can help them realize there’s no reason to fear.
To help them, you can use a cognitive behavioral therapy technique that many professionals try to use, too. You can even do this yourself if you ever find yourself stressing over something. Ask yourself these questions:
- “What’s the worst that can happen?”
- “What’s the best that can happen?”
- “What’s the most realistic outcome?”
This can be extremely helpful because it lets you or your loved ones prepare for possible scenarios. That can bring some relief, and help build up defenses against possibilities.
Be Careful with Reassurance
If a friend tells you that they’re afraid to fly across the country, you may find it natural to say something like “You’ll be fine!” While this is a thoughtful and friendly way to help ease their fears, it may do more harm than good.
Excessive reassurance-seeking is a common symptom of anxiety, and providing reassurance to a loved one allows them to feel quick relief from anxious feelings. However, it often backfires, because it strengthens the belief that if they had never sought reassurance, then their anxieties will have increased.
Instead, you can be comforting, while also being realistic. Going back to the previous example, you can tell your friend who is anxious about flying something like “Yeah, it will probably be scary. But you’ll be able to get through it.” This can ease fears without giving any false hope.
Don’t Take Things Personally
If a friend or family member lashes out at you or seems to be avoiding you for a period of time, it’s important to remember not to take it personally. Their manifestation of anxiety is not representative of their character. If you start to believe that their outward expression of anxiety is an attack on you, you risk changing, or losing, an important relationship.
It’s okay to ask your loved one for an explanation as to why they acted a certain way, just be careful not to stigmatize them. Chances are, they already feel guilty for acting the way they did. Remind them that you still love them, and are still here for them, even when their anxiety is at its worst.
If You’re Worried for Their Safety
If your loved one is becoming increasingly different and hostile, or if you’re concerned for their safety, it’s a good idea to try to get them professional help. It’s never easy convincing a friend to seek help, but it can help them work through their feelings.
Be cognizant of time and place, be ready for resistance, and remain empathetic when telling a loved one that professional help may benefit them. Remind them that it doesn’t need to be a long-term commitment, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and tell them about how effective therapy can be.
If your friend is in a severe crisis, you can call one of many crisis hotlines.
Anxiety can be one of the hardest things someone will ever experience. Showing any form of compassion and care is usually more than enough, but there are a few specific things you can do.
First, look for the signs. If you notice a friend or family member is avoiding certain instances, breathing heavily, shaking or trembling, or constantly seeking reassurance, they are exhibiting symptoms of anxiety.
During these times, you will want to remain positive and never invalidate their feelings or emotions. It’s also helpful to put things into perspective by asking them to analyze the best and worst things that can happen if exposed to a given situation. With that said, try not to provide too much reassurance, as this may do more harm than good.
If your friend comes to you and is ready to talk to someone, Brightside can help them take the first steps. We’ll match them with a licensed therapist and psychiatric provider who will make a personalized treatment plan to get them back on track. And if needed, medications can be sent directly to their door.
Getting help for anxiety is a tough step to make. As your loved one makes their journey to recovery, be sure to stick by their side just like you always have.