Did you know that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. Shocking isn’t it? That means that there’s a good chance that someone you know suffers from anxiety and/or panic attacks. As someone who unfortunately suffers from Anxiety myself, I thought it would be helpful to come up with some tips for loved ones trying to help someone close to them. It’s hard to know how to handle anxiety if you’re not familiar with how it feels, here are some tips.
It may seem like there should be a quick fix for everything by now, being 2017 and all, but anxiety has no fast remedy. Panic attacks sometimes come on suddenly and sometimes gradually, but helping your loved one get through one is NOT a fast process. It’s important to remember that patience is key to helping someone with anxiety. Rushing them, pressuring them or making them feel like something is wrong with them – will only cause them additional stress. If you want them to be calm, then remember to remain extremely calm and collected when they start to panic.
Change Their Focus
There’s something I’ve found very helpful with my son, called a grounding exercise. Basically, the idea is to change focus from worry and fear to something else. I ask my son to look around and find five things he can see, four things he can feel, three things he can hear, two things he can smell and one thing he can taste. Here is a link to a blog explaining this grounding exercise in detail.
Remind Them To Breathe
Seems obvious, but it’s kind of hard to remember when your mind starts spinning out of control. My husband is actually great about this with me. It’s the first thing he says to me when I start to panic. “Just breathe hunny”, he says in a kind, calm voice and it helps me tremendously. Here are some great breathing exercises to try.
The number one thing you can do for someone with anxiety is to show them kindness. Don’t pity them, but show them that no matter how they feel or react to something – you are there for them. Remind them that this battle makes them brave and strong, not weak. People with anxiety tend to be very hard on themselves. It can often feel like a lonely battle to face. Just remember to show them compassion and not judgement.
Don’t Bombard Them With Information
From upcoming events, to sad news stories – it’s never a good idea to bombard someone with anxiety with too much information at once. We are very imaginative thinkers, so one little detail causes our brains to jump from one thought to another. If you start throwing a bunch of information at us at once, our brains shift into overdrive – causing our anxiety to skyrocket over something that seem silly to someone else. You may thinks it’s odd that something little like a news story or an invite to a party could cause us stress, but trust me our brains have likely jumped from a simple piece of information to thirty one different worrisome scenarios.
Don’t Guilt Them
It’s never a good idea to guilt someone with anxiety into doing something that’s hard for them. If large crowds trigger their anxiety, don’t give them a hard time about missing your big birthday bash. If they are willing to come and try to overcome their fears, great. If not, be kind about it. Trust me, no one is harder on themselves than someone with anxiety.
Anxiety is a battle that I will fight my whole life. I have learned many techniques to deal with it, and thankfully my husband is great about showing me compassion through rough moments. I have a wonderful support system around me and prayer helps me so much, as does learning to slow down. I say no to things I don’t want to do, and push myself when I feel like I need to. Whatever it is that helps you or your loved one deal with their anxiety, remember to give them (and yourself) grace along the way. Anxiety feels lonely, but it’s important to remember that you are NOT alone.