Many of us deal with bouts of worry, fear and concern from time to time. But for those with anxiety, thoughts and feelings can become so intense and overwhelming that they consume their daily life and energy – mentally, physically and emotionally.
It can be tough to love someone who lives with anxiety. You want to help them deal with their condition, but you don’t know what to say or do to help diminish their distress when they are feeling anxious.
It’s important to realize that anxiety isn’t a physical condition. It isn’t something you can logic or reason your way out of.
“Someone dealing with anxiety can’t just ‘get over it,’ ‘let it go,’ or ‘forget about it,’” said Eddie Taylor, PhD, a clinical psychologist with Banner Health in Queen Creek, AZ. “Anxiety disorder is just as real as a broken leg. You can’t walk it off.”
Living with anxiety is more intense. People experiencing anxiety can have extreme difficulty with the cycle of worry, feel impending doom and be overly concerned about events or situations, or have challenges just making it through the day.
You may feel as helpless as your loved one, but you aren’t hopeless. Dr. Taylor shared ways you can help your loved one.
Do's and don'ts to help your loved one with anxiety
DO learn how to recognize the signs.
First, understanding the signs of anxiety can help you realize when your loved one has fearful thoughts and feelings. Symptoms of anxiety can vary from person to person, but they can be expressed in the following ways:
- Physical signs: Stomachaches, muscle and head pain, panic attacks, sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep or unsatisfying sleep)
- Thoughts: Obsessive thinking, catastrophizing (believing the worst will happen), persistent worry
- Feelings: Excessive fear, tension, restless, wound up
- Behaviors: Avoid situations or events, second-guess, compulsive actions
DO be patient.
Although this sounds cliché, it is a practical approach to supporting someone struggling with anxiety. Allow your loved one to engage and adjust to environments at their own pace.
DO be available.
Being present is half the battle. Let your loved one know you are there, by phone, text, virtually or in person.
“When they are having a tough time, be supportive,” Dr. Taylor said. “Knowing someone is a phone call away is comforting.”
DO be encouraging.
Encourage your loved one to talk about their feelings or what they are experiencing. Support them to participate in activities at their own pace. You can support them by helping them with tasks they may find anxiety-inducing instead of doing them yourself.
DO take care of yourself.
Remember to take care of your own needs too. You can become frustrated and exhausted, which could compromise your mental and physical health.
“Taking care of yourself will help you to be better equipped to help your loved one,” Dr. Taylor said. “Self-care is just as important for the caregiver as it is for the one needing support.”
DON’T argue or tell them to calm down.
Your loved one knows their fears shouldn’t bother them, but it can be hard or impossible to use logic to calm them. So don’t argue or try to force them to change. This could create more worry, anger or isolation.
DON’T avoid inviting them to participate.
Although your loved one will have difficulty or will not accept an invitation, not being invited can be a painful experience.
“Insecurities, self-doubt and worry can consume your loved one about reasons why they weren’t invited,” Dr. Taylor said.
DON’T ignore your loved one.
Often people who are dealing with an illness will refuse treatment. Caringly encourage your loved one to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a licensed behavioral health specialist. CBT helps people identify and change negative thinking and behavioral patterns that make them vulnerable to anxiety.
If your loved one mentions suicide, shows signs of self-harming behavior, or they are at risk of suicide, call 988 or 1-800-273-8255. If they are at high risk or immediate risk of suicide, call 911.
Anxiety can take a toll on a person and others around them, causing stress and strain in relationships.
It can be tough to watch a family member or loved one struggle with anxiety every day, but there are things you can do to help. It starts with recognizing the signs and understanding ways to support them.
Need advice on how to support a loved one who has anxiety?
Call the Banner Behavioral Health Appointment Line at (800) 254-4357.
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline): Call 988 if you or a loved one is contemplating suicide.