Anxiety can be one of the most debilitating and isolating feelings in the world. When that wave comes over you it affects your mind, body and spirit. Affecting over 40 million adults (18 percent of the population) anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States.
I first started dealing with an anxiety disorder when I was 8 years old. As a child, it was terrifying to feel the sadness and panic set in and feel completely helpless. It affected me in school, sports, and friendships. Thankfully, I had a supportive family and was able to receive therapy from a young age. I remember feeling so consumed by my thoughts and worries, that it was hard to get through the day. When my friends found out I was going to therapy, I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I just didn’t understand why life seemed so much easier to all of my friends and how they could go through their day without a care in the world. I realize now, these were some big thoughts and worries for an 8-year-old to carry.
Since elementary school, I have struggled with panic and generalized anxiety disorder ebbing and flowing through all the changes and transitions of life. At one especially difficult time in my life, anxiety medication helped me to get through each day. I still experience the tightness in my chest, racing heart, difficulty breathing, and all the fear, insecurity, nervousness and panic when anxiety sets in. But like many with anxiety, I have learned to utilize a variety of strategies in order to cope with my anxiety and take care of myself despite these setbacks. That said, it can be exhausting at times.
I feel so incredibly grateful for all of the people in my life who have supported me through my anxiety disorder. Having a strong support system is so vital to those struggling with anxiety. As someone who has experienced anxiety firsthand, I have found it can be incredibly difficult for those who have not experienced anxiety to understand. Even if you don’t know what anxiety feels like, there are ways you can support your loved ones who are struggling with it and today I’m outlining ways you can support your loved ones who are struggling with anxiety.
Ways to Help a Loved One with Anxiety
Learn your loved ones anxiety signs.
Anxiety comes in different shapes and forms depending on the person, but in general there are key signs to look for. Anxiety hits the body first and includes physical signs like: shakiness, restlessness, tenseness, rapid breathing, nauseous, dizziness, and increased heart rate. If you notice your partner beginning to show any of these physical signs you can help them identify that and be proactive about taking some deep breaths to calm down before things elevate. Our lives are busy and oftentimes these physical signs can be missed before things worsen. Mental and emotional anxiety portrays itself with feeling nervous, tense, restless, having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
If you love someone with anxiety you probably have come to recognize the signs that they are struggling. Give them the time and space to process things internally and then be there for them to listen to what it is they are struggling with. It can be hard to not jump in and try to fix things or comment, but try to listen deeply and show you truly care. This will mean so much to them.
Let them feel the feels.
I can tell you first hand, we are already beating ourselves up enough about what we are feeling. We do not need anyone else telling us “it’s okay” or “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “just be happy” or “everyone feels that way sometimes”. Validating our feelings and allowing us to move through them is so important. You have the best intentions and you just want to help your loved one get to the other side of this, but know that trying to push away or diminish the feelings will only worsen things. Phrases like, “I’m here for you” “I love you” “what can I do to help?” and “do you want me to just listen or would you like advice?” are very helpful when someone is spiraling.
Ask, what can I do to help?
Sometimes when someone is upset all we want to do is fix it. Know that you are not going to fix it. This is a mental illness that is out of your loved ones control, let alone your own. Ask what you can do to help. Maybe that means giving them space or giving them a hug, listening to them vent or lightening their load by making dinner. On another note- sometimes when you are dealing with anxiety questions can be the most anxiety inducing thing. If your question of what can I do to help results in a blank stare, try suggesting something you know has helped in the past like taking a walk and getting some fresh air.
Know that it’s not your fault.
I think this one may be the most difficult for my partner. It breaks his heart to see me struggle and he can’t help but put it back on himself. No matter how many times I tell him it’s not you, it’s me, he just can’t help but take the blame. Know that this mental illness that your loved one is experiencing, is due to brain chemistry and often genetics. Try your best not to take it personally.
Help them find a professional.
This can’t all be on you. Being with someone who has anxiety means taking on a lot of that emotion and stress. Know that you alone can not fix this for them. In the end, anxiety disorders are very treatable and your loved one really needs professional help in order to tackle this. Whether that means talking to a doctor or psychiatrist about medication or a therapist to schedule weekly check ins. If you take on too much, it is going to take a toll on your mental health as well. Make sure to do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy- like taking walks, spending time with friends, exercising and doing hobbies that you enjoy.
Anxiety is complicated and there isn’t any clear cut answer to fixing it. You may want to wave a magic wand for your loved ones, but it’s not that simple. Hopefully the tips above will be helpful in supporting them, while also taking care of yourself. Remember, if you start to notice your loved one isn’t sleeping and is struggling to get through their day to day life due to anxiety, it is time to get help. A doctor or psychiatrist can help to diagnose and treat what they are experiencing. Don’t wait, get help now so they can get their life back on track.
If you struggle with anxiety, is there anything that has helped you? If you have a loved one struggling with anxiety, how have you taken care of them while also caring for yourself? If you are comfortable, let us know in the comments below.
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