One of the challenges of anxiety is that those suffering from it tend to withdraw and close themselves off from others. This can be a real challenge for their friends and family members who want to help but don’t know how to approach them or in what way they can be supportive.
If someone close to you is struggling with some form of anxiety disorder, the first thing you can do to support them is understand their situation. This is no easy task. You may think that the normal anxiety you have felt at different stressful moments in your life will help you relate to what your loved one is going through, but that is not usually the case. The anxiety they feel is much more complex and much more difficult to control. It builds on itself, creating physical and mental problems that make their feelings of anxiety more likely to come up again.
It’s important to understand that anxiety changes the way a person’s brain works. It may seem like the problem exists in their thoughts and that you can fix their problem through logic and reasoning but this isn’t true. Anxiety requires special treatment, but you can still be a valuable asset to them as they deal with and overcome their disorder. Here are some things you should and should not do as you support them:
- Do let them know that they can be open with you and you won’t judge them. They can express the same fears over and over and you won’t belittle them for it.
- Don’t lose patience or get frustrated. Remember that the problem isn’t just with their thinking, it’s also a chemical imbalance. They realize their anxieties aren’t as serious as they seem but they can’t prevent them. Don’t expect them to respond favorably if you try to use logic to solve their anxiety.
- Do spend time with them. Spending time with others will help them focus less on their fears.
- Don’t bring up their anxiety all the time. In some cases, talking about their anxiety can actually bring on panic attacks. Instead, let them bring it up if they want to talk about it.
- Do tell them to call you anytime they need to. Anxiety can make you feel lost and alone, but knowing that there’s someone you can always turn to can be a great comfort.
- Don’t forget about yourself. It’s important that you manage your own anxiety and stress levels so that you can be there for your loved one in the best possible way.
- Do forgive them. As their brain chemistry is altered, they can become more irritable and difficult. It may not always be a picnic to be around them, but don’t give up the relationship.
- Don’t expect immediate, miraculous change. Recovery will happen slowly in small increments that will add up over time.
- Don’t guilt trip them in order to get them out of their shell. This can lead them to shut down rather than open up in the way you want. Guilt trips mess with the mind and they already have enough going on in their thoughts.
- Be happy about their progress. Don’t assume they know you are proud of them. They will often times interpret the feelings of those around them in a negative way so be very expressive about your positive feelings towards them.
- Be yourself. You don’t need to change to be helpful. Just be yourself and be a good friend.