Tips for Supporting Someone Suffering from Anxiety
There is a difference between the rational anxiety that most of us face over justified horrors in our daily lives and the anxiety that some people face for seemingly irrational reasons in situations that aren’t generally stressful or threatening. People living with anxiety disorders experience a variety of symptoms over things and situations that most people do not. It can come on with such intensity that it affects their ability to function and do things they enjoy.
You can support someone living with anxiety by listening to their experiences and demonstrating that you are there for them. Try to understand their condition and ask them how they want to be supported. If someone is experiencing anxiety, help them focus on the present and encourage them to breathe evenly.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illnesses and they’re on the rise across the globe partly due to the pandemic. Chances are you know someone who lives with anxiety, so it’s always a good idea to learn how to support someone living with this frequently debilitating condition.
How to Recognise if Someone Has Anxiety
Anxiety can present itself in many different ways and it affects everyone differently. For that reason, there are a wide range of anxiety symptoms that someone living with it can experience, though they may only experience one or more of them. Anxiety symptoms include behaviours such as:
- A sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Increased heart rate
- Feelings of weakness and fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues
- Trouble sleeping
How Do You Support Someone With Anxiety?
If your loved one is living with anxiety, there are strategies you can use to support them through it.
Understand their anxiety
Talk to them about their experiences, read about forms of anxiety, and get to know what the symptoms are. The more you understand, the more you can do to help, spot triggers, and support them through it.
Let them know you’re there for them
If your loved one decides to confide in you about their anxiety, let them know you’re there for them by listening to their experiences. Validate it and tell them that you’re there for them. If you don’t live with anxiety yourself, then it’s not a good idea to offer advice. Just offering your support provides comfort in that they don’t need to carry their burden alone.
Ask them how they want to be supported
Listen carefully to their answers if you want to know how you can give emotional support and make a difference. They may need help breaking down an activity or a task they are anxious about, they may need someone to talk to or distract them from their thoughts, or even just to accompany them to an event.
Ways to Deal With Anxiety or Panic Attacks
Focus on the present
Anxiety is usually related to worries people have about the future. Instead of worrying about what is going to happen, try to reel their mind back into the present. Ask what’s happening right now, if they feel safe, and tell them they can look directly at you and focus on your features to bring them back to the present.
Bring them back
Remind them it is a panic attack, that it’s temporary, it will pass, and that they are not in any direct danger. Their mind is activating its fight-or-flight mode, so their thoughts may not be rational or sensible to you. Stay with them until it passes.
Try to counteract any negative thoughts. If they are anxious about a performance, remind them that they are well prepared. Discuss the options they could consider if things don’t go according to plan. Remind them that no matter what happens, that you will be there and support them.
Breathing helps us all calm down. Focus on breathing in and out and encourage them to follow your lead. Inhale and exhale evenly and slowly to help them recentre their mind.
Follow the 3-3-3 rule
Ask them to look around and name three things they see, then three sounds they hear, finally ask them to move three parts of their body such as their fingers, feet, and toes. This mental trick can help to recentre the mind and bring their focus back to the present.
Interrupt their train of thought
Encourage them to take a walk, stand up, make a cup of coffee or have a snack, anything that distracts them from the negative thoughts should help them regain some control.
Stay away from sugar
Research shows that sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead of reaching for the tempting bar of chocolate which might seem comforting at the time, encourage them to drink a glass of water or eat some kind of protein or carbohydrate which will provide slow energy their body can use to recover.
Watch something funny
Save clips of their favourite comedian or TV show. Laughter has a lot of benefits for our mental health and well-being. It is often the best distraction and can instantly improve their mood.
What Types Of Anxiety Are There?
Anxiety is subdivided into a number of different disorders depending on your symptoms and triggers:
- Agoraphobia – the fear of a place or situation that can make you feel panicked, trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.
- Anxiety due to a medical condition – symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly linked to a physical health condition.
- Generalised anxiety disorder – persistent and excessive anxiety about nonspecific events or activities which can include even routine tasks. The worry experienced is out of proportion to the circumstances and is usually associated with other disorders or depression.
- Panic disorder – repeated episodes of sudden intense anxiety, fear, or terror that reach a peak usually within minutes. These are known as panic attacks. Symptoms include feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, and/or heart palpitations. If you experience panic attacks, you might avoid situations where they’ve previously occurred because you’re concerned they will happen again.
- Selective mutism – this is when children are unable to speak in certain situations consistently such as at school or around adults, especially if they don’t have a problem speaking in other places like at home.
- Separation anxiety disorder – mostly occurring in children who experience feelings of anxiety when separated from their parents that is excessive for their developmental level.
- Social anxiety disorder – high levels of anxiety or fear in social situations. People living with this often experience excess self-consciousness, embarrassment, or fear of being judged or viewed negatively.
- Specific phobias – When someone experiences major anxiety when faced by a specific object, animal, or situation, combined with a desire to avoid it. This can sometimes provoke panic attacks.
- Substance induced anxiety disorder – this includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic as a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, withdrawal from drugs, or being exposed to a toxic substance.
- Other specified or unspecified anxiety disorder – this is the term for anxiety or phobias that don’t fit the exact criteria of other anxiety disorders but still cause major distress.
If you live with an anxiety disorder that causes you significant and impairing limitations, you may be eligible for support services from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Get in touch with us at Maple Community Services and talk to one of our anxiety or mental health professionals to discuss your options today.