If you know someone with anxiety, you might feel frustrated or lost and not know how to help them cope with their anxiety. Well, if you’re ready to become their ally, it’s important that you educate yourself about anxiety and learn some anxiety-relieving techniques that might be able to help your loved one. In addition, you should know that someone’s emotional distance because of anxiety doesn’t always mean that they’re avoiding you.You should know that it’s not your responsibility to fix someone’s anxiety or force them to get treatment. Here’s what you have control over and how you can start to become an ally for someone with anxiety.
Educate Yourself About Anxiety
It’s imperative that you break through the stigmas, stereotypes, and misinformation. Unfortunately, it’s very common (especially in the media, TV, and movies) for individuals with mental illnesses to be portrayed as crazy, erratic, or even deranged. Regardless of what you may have seen or heard, having a mental illness doesn’t make someone inferior or defective.
There are several types of anxiety, and each person with anxiety may experience different symptoms and triggers. Some individuals experience excessive social anxiety, while others may have certain phobias. In addition, there are people that suffer from sudden panic attacks and others that have generalized feelings of worry and dread throughout the day. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to do some research about anxiety and talk with your loved one about their daily experience with anxiety so that you can better understand what it may be like for them mentally.
Realize That This Is a Medical Issue
Understand that this person doesn’t want to have anxiety. They’d love to be able to switch it off if that was an option. Anxiety isn’t a choice; it’s a mental health disorder that is affecting your loved one. It’s common for people with anxiety and their loved ones to feel upset or blamed for the fact that they can’t cure a person’s anxiety. Both parties should know that it’s unrealistic to think that a mental illness can be cured just because you really want it to be. Some people may be able to overcome symptoms of their disorder or rid themselves of the disorder altogether, but unfortunately, that’s just not very common. Many people with mental illnesses suffer from them for their entire life. So, pressuring someone to simply “get over” their illness is a medical impossibility.
Even if your intentions are positive behind statements like these, it doesn’t move either of you toward any form of mutual understanding or relief. Forty million adults suffer from anxiety in the US alone. This proves that anxiety is a major medical issue. As such, your loved one (if they haven’t already done so) can choose to seek medical diagnosis and treatment for their condition. Their doctor may prescribe certain medications or psychological treatments to help them manage their disorder. So, it’s important to be educated about what treatment they’re already receiving as well. From there, becoming an ally to someone with anxiety is all about understanding their symptoms of anxiety and what you can do to help.
Understand Their Triggers
It’s important to have conversations with your loved one and ask them if there are certain triggers that they know about. Of course, there are going to be times when their stress is triggered no matter what. Sadly, even if you do your best to avoid it, that’s just how anxiety works. It seems to flare up at the most inconvenient times. However, having a stress-free, nonjudgmental conversation about their anxiety and what types of things might be triggering for that person can help you to avoid those topics or to be prepared when an anxiety attack could be on the horizon.
Do What You Can to Help Them Relieve Stress
Now that you know what triggers your loved one might be up against, it’s time to come up with a solution. Again, I suggest talking with your loved one about what activities tend to help relieve their stress. You most likely know something about their interests, so use that to your advantage. If you have a friend who likes the outdoors, maybe suggest taking a walk. If you have a creative family member, try working on an art project.
Ask them what types of activities they usually go for and if you can be involved in those activities (if you’d like to). If you’re looking to become an ally for someone with anxiety, it’s a good idea to try an be involved with their anxiety every once and a while. Being involved in a stress-relieving activity lets that person know that you acknowledge the issue, that you care, and that you’re willing to help them fight the disorder.
Know That It’s Not Your Fault
You have to be prepared for some solutions to not work. Anxiety is different for everyone, and sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just can’t seem to rid ourselves of that stressful headspace. So, just know that it’s OK to not be OK for a while.
In my own personal experience, I have encountered the most frustration from people in my life when they don’t understand why their solutions aren’t working. They’re doing their best to be helpful, but sometimes the anxiety is just too strong that day or my mental state feels weak. It’s not that my friends and family aren’t doing something right; it’s just that I’m having a hard time fighting back against my anxiety today. It is not your job to diagnose or treat someone with anxiety, so don’t let yourself be burdened by a need to “fix” someone’s mental illness.
Understand That It’s OK to Need Space
Sometimes it’s difficult to be around people when you’re having a particularly high anxiety day. Sometimes you need to try to calm down on your own. This is when your loved one might retreat to their “safe space” and try reading a book, taking a nice bath, or whatever it is that might help them lower their anxiety immediately.
Give them that room, but also open yourself up to be an ally. Let them know that you will be there if they need you. They might just need someone to talk about their anxiety with — not necessarily someone to come up with a solution. Sometimes it’s just nice to be able to get your thoughts out on the table without judgment. Furthermore, it’s therapeutic to be able to speak your mind without fear of judgment. For many people with anxiety, this safe space involves journaling or some other form of expression without actually ever talking to another person. Sorting through your own feelings and thoughts can be overwhelming, to say the least. So, allow them to try and sort through things by themselves when they need to.
Oftentimes, people with anxiety stray away from loved ones because they fear judgment or that an encounter with someone else while in a state of anxiety will only worsen their feelings. This can lead to reclusion, and it may seem like they are trying to avoid you. In cases like these, it’s important to open up the lines of communication. Let them know that you understand anxiety and that you’re ready to listen to what they have to say. If your loved one has anxiety and you’re unsure of where to start, a safe conversation is the best place to begin. Tell them that you’re ready to understand and that you’re ready to do what you can to be their ally.