Supporting people with Anxiety

Anxiety is a massive problem for many people. When you feel anxious about everyday life, your world really does reduce in size. It’s difficult to embark on new adventures and experiences, when you are struck down with nerves just at the thought of catching a bus or bumping into someone you know on the street. Many people can actually be afraid of anxiety itself; if you have ever had a panic attack, for example, you will have experienced first-hand that horrible feeling of imminent death or doom, accompanied by physical symptoms which are similar to those of heart attacks. And, if you have been there, chances are you never want to go there again. There’s no doubt that anxiety can be frightening and threatening.

What isn’t mentioned so much, is that anxiety also affects family and friends – who want to help but often just don’t know how to.

The ‘Just snap out of it’ mentality is clearly NOT helpful … so what is?

  • Be a listening ear for your family member, partner or friend. Some people like to share their feelings, others don’t. Being there for someone doesn’t mean badgering them to off load if they don’t want to! But if you make it clear that you are there if they need you, that you won’t judge them and that your opinion of them won’t change … then that is worth so much to someone. Don’t assume that they know they can come to you – spell it out and then leave it up to them.
          • Spend quality time with them… just being there, being a friend is often enough.
          • Be available … knowing that someone is just a phone call away is a comfort.
          • Encourage new activities and experiences. Someone with anxiety is more likely to try new things with a trusted friend or partner. Exercise is a great way to alleviate anxiety – and you’re more likely to stick to it if you do it with someone else.
          • Express pride at small steps – emphasise the positive rather than criticising avoidance or irrational fears and behaviours.
          • Never judge.
          • Don’t assume you know what someone needs – offer help and listen to what they want, rather than simply doing what you think they need.
          • Don’t pretend to understand how anxiety or panic attacks feel if you have never experienced them. Being genuine is key to helping someone, so be honest about not really understanding but make sure your friend knows that you will listen and try to help in any way that you can. In the same way, try not to become frustrated … but, if you do lose your temper one day, it’s not the end of the world if you have an open conversation about how you are feeling too. You’re only human and supporting others can have its challenges too. Reading our Understanding Anxiety may give you a greater understanding.
          • Encourage treatment but don’t push. As any therapist knows, the success of treatment always relies on self-responsibility. If people feel pushed into therapy, they will not necessarily engage with it.
          • Ask for help and support yourself if you need it. There are some great support groups out there for carers and family of people who are facing mental health challenges. You’re a good friend or partner BUT you’re not a nurse – you have needs too. Don’t let your friendship become too one-sided.
          • Modelling good self-talk can encourage that in others. People with anxiety often ‘beat themselves up’ emotionally, talking to themselves in a negative way, which in turn negatively impacts their mood and increases their anxiety.

          Your support can make a real difference – good luck!