Before supporting someone with anxiety, you must find ways to take care of yourself. Prioritize what you need to do for your mental and physical health. Identify what’s the bare minimum you need to maintain your resiliency to continue supporting your loved one. Give yourself grace and acknowledge any negativities you will face when things don’t go how you want them to. Celebrate small wins along the journey because you deserve it.
Many worldwide suffer from mental health illnesses, most commonly anxiety and depressive disorders.
About 57.8 million adults in the U.S., 18 years or older, are clinically diagnosed with mental health disorders.
If we include people who struggle with mental health but aren’t diagnosable, we can see how big the problem is.
At some point in our lives, we will struggle with our own mental health. For some of us, it might become a diagnosable disorder; if not, it will be something we might need a little support on.
You probably know how mental health matters most, especially since today’s world emphasizes it.
If you haven’t experienced supporting someone else’s mental health, then, at some point in your life, you will have to. Someone you love will likely face mental health challenges and seek your support.
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What are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety can be severe or mild. When mild, anxiety doesn’t last long nor affect your daily activities.
There’s usually a specific event or situation that triggers it.
When this happens, you might experience racing thoughts like “what ifs,” leading to worries and nervousness.
However, you can control them and manage yourself to calm down. But, when mild anxiety regularly occurs, it may develop into an anxiety disorder.
There are many types of anxiety disorders. These mental health conditions occur when anxiety becomes regular and interferes with your daily activities.
Below are the types of anxiety disorders:
1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
It occurs when someone excessively worries about many things like health, finances, work, family, etc.
2. Panic disorder
When someone constantly experiences repetitive episodes of panic attacks causing physical symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and sweating.
3. Social anxiety disorder
A person may fear or worry about being judged by others when socializing.
4. Specific phobias
Someone may develop intense fears of specific objects or situations, like fear of heights, spiders, snakes, and public speaking.
5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
A person may have persistent, unwanted, or intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
6. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
It can develop after a person experiences a traumatic event, like a natural disaster, a car accident, or a physical or sexual assault.
7. Separation anxiety disorder
It often affects children, developing intense anxiety or worry when separated from their parents or caregivers.
Learning more about anxiety is the most important thing because the more you know what’s going on for that person, the more you’ll likely be able to help.
It will also save you from being anxious about how you will handle the situation.
You don’t have to exactly “know it all.” Learning the basics and techniques that can help you both will certainly make a change.
9 ways to support someone with anxiety
When someone you know or a loved one struggles with anxiety and reaches out to you for support, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach you can use to help them.
It can be overwhelming, especially if you haven’t had any experience supporting someone else’s mental health.
But below are things you can do to help them:
1. Learn more about anxiety
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. When our body perceives a threat, it enters a “fight or flight” mode.
It’s a normal response for humans and is essential for survival.
But people with anxiety go into a “fight or flight” even in situations that are not even dangerous or threats that aren’t real.
When someone you love suffers from anxiety, one of the best things you can do is to learn more about it.
You can begin by reading books, researching online, and joining support groups discussing anxiety.
Here are a few of the most popular books on anxiety, the 2 at the end are best for young adults and children:
In today’s time, where there’s still a stigma on mental health issues, learning more about anxiety will allow you to understand its nature, its types, and how it affects the person.
2. Validate their feelings
Validating their experience or feelings is one of the most important things you can do to support someone with anxiety.
You can do this by reflecting on what they’ve shared and making them feel understood or heard.
Even if you disagree with what they might’ve said, acknowledge and accept their feelings without judgment.
Validating their feelings may look like, “What you’re going through sounds tough, and I can see why you’re feeling like this right now.” or “Thank you so much for sharing this with me. You’re not alone.”
Don’t try to dismiss them. Avoid saying things like, “Stop thinking like that.” or “Other people have it worse.” or “Just calm down and think positive.”
These statements can make the person feel ashamed and guilty of what they are feeling, which can add up to their anxiety.
These are also highly invalidating and can ignore the fact that the person is already experiencing anxiety.
3. Share something you know that can help them
If you have something to share that helped you, share it with them, especially if you know it can help them.
It could be a book you have read, a podcast you have listened to, or a video you’ve come across.
Remember, you must only share because you feel like, “I’m sharing this with you because I found it helpful.” not “You need this because I think you have a problem that needs fixing.”
Remember that you shouldn’t force anything on them. You are there to support them until they’re ready to help themselves.
The last thing you want to do is make them feel that their anxiety is wrong and they need fixing.
Please don’t pressure them or make them think they shouldn’t be experiencing what they’re experiencing.
4. Creating a safe space
Many people struggle with communicating their feelings, especially negative emotions.
Most of us didn’t have the chance to grow up and be taught by our parents about healthy communication.
Most of us learned that talking about our feelings is a weakness and that we shouldn’t be feeling negative.
Let them know you’re there whenever they’re ready to talk; if not, make them feel it’s okay.
Don’t try to force them to communicate. Let them take their time.
Sharing your experiences may also be helpful, especially when you have something to relate to them. But try not to make it about yourself.
5. Listen to them
When someone becomes ready to express their feelings, please give them your full attention. Let them know that you’re all ears to them.
Don’t try to talk over them. Stop thinking about the right thing you should be saying and refrain from giving advice or a solution. Just listen and be present with them.
Give them cues like, “Hmm” or “Uh-huh” or “Did I hear you right? You said something like-“.
These will let them know that you’re actively listening to them.
The feeling of being heard can be a tremendous blessing, especially to someone carrying weight until they share it with you.
6. Ask them before giving an advice
Before you give advice, ask them if they need it. It’s like asking for their permission before you give it a go.
Remember that you are there to support them. You may do it like, “Do you want me to give you advice or just listen?”
Asking them will open their consciousness to the fact that you’re coming from a place of compassion, that you’re there to listen without judgment.
7. Ask them what they need
Now, you may have asked them if they needed your advice or not.
But another important thing is to ask them what they need most right now.
This person may have difficulty communicating what they need now, so be patient and kind.
Most people grew up not knowing how to ask for their needs, so give them that space and let them take their time to think.
Simply asking what they need right now can do huge for them.
Be sure to let them know it’s okay they’re taking time, and you’ll be happy to help when they’re ready.
8. Let them have a good cry
When people start to open up about their feelings, they’ll experience a surge of emotions and start crying.
Don’t try to stop them. Just let them be and let them have a good cry.
Crying is a good thing. It’s a release of the heavyweight they’re carrying. Reassure them that it’s okay and you’re a safe space.
9. Introduce coping techniques
One of the most effective coping techniques for reducing stress and anxiety is mindfulness and meditation.
Before introducing coping techniques, ensure you have enough background of your loved one’s anxiety, how it affects them, and what triggers it.
Learn about the basics so that you can explain its benefits and answer their inquiries effectively.
When you introduce it to them, make sure you both are in a quiet and comfortable space while your loved one is calm, not in the middle of an anxiety attack.
There are many different types of mindfulness meditations, but a good place to start is with short sessions and simple breath meditation.
Ask the person to sit comfortably and close their eyes while focusing their vision on a fixed point.
Then, ask them to focus on their breath, noticing the rise and fall of their chest as they breathe in and out. They can stay in this position for a few minutes.
You may also offer guided meditation online or ask them to meditate together. That way, it’ll be reassuring and less intimidating for them as beginners.
10. Learn to manage your own emotions
Now, this is a very important tip. Being able to manage your own emotions will allow you to think clearly and make sound decisions.
You’re more likely to understand and empathize with them and avoid saying or doing things that can worsen their anxiety.
Mastering your emotions will also help you provide a calm self, which your loved one can acquire and be encouraged to cope with their anxiety effectively.
What is the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety?
Another effective coping strategy is the 3-3-3 rule, which involves using your senses to focus on your present moment and surroundings, which can help bring you back to reality and ground you in the present moment.
The 3-3-3 rule is by simply doing the following:
- Identify three things you can see in your current environment. Observe their color, shape, size, and other details that catch your eye. As you identify them, say their names in your mind or out loud.
- Identify three sounds you can hear in your surroundings. These could be the hum of a fan, birds chirping, traffic noise, or even your breathing. Name these sounds as you hear them.
- Move three parts of your body or identify three things you can touch in your current environment. Observe their texture, temperature, and any other sensations they bring to mind.
7 ways to take care of yourself when supporting someone with anxiety
1. Learn to set boundaries
When someone you love suffers, you’ll be willing to go beyond for them. So, when your loved one opens up about struggling with anxiety, you may go out of your way to help them.
You’re more likely to give up things that matter to you to be there for them. It’s normal because who wants to see someone they love suffer?
More often than not, you would feel the sense of responsibility to take out their pain.
You would want to do anything to help them feel better, even if it means putting themselves before yours.
You’re more likely to ignore your mental health to support them. There’s nothing wrong in doing that, but it’s where you should learn to set boundaries.
How will you be able to support your loved one when you’re slowly losing yourself in the process?
You may not notice this until your mental health problems start. It’ll take time to realize because you will focus on meeting their needs. But at some point, you will know you were sacrificing too much of yourself for them.
Avoid letting this happen. Make sure you take care of your mental health first because that’s the best way to support someone else.
Now, if you find yourself struggling to do this while supporting someone, what you could do is organize and know your priorities.
Get things done for yourself first. Maintain your daily routine, continue doing what you love, and give yourself what you need.
More often than not, we prioritize the person we love because we think they matter more now than ourselves because they’re suffering, right?
Ask yourself, “What do I need to keep myself resilient and continue to support my loved one?”
Identify what things you need, for example, doing what you used to love and enjoy before you had to support someone else’s mental health, whether taking a jog in the morning, treating yourself to lunch at your favorite fast-food restaurant, or going out with your friends.
Take care of yourself first before you take care of others.
2. Be kind to yourself
You’re not a robot to begin with. As you support your loved one with their mental health, there will be times that it will also take a toll on you.
You will feel tired, frustrated, guilty, or even anxious about it, especially if you try your best for them and see that it didn’t help them how it should be.
Take your time to reflect on your feelings. These are entirely normal, and nothing’s wrong with it.
What you can do when this happens is to be kind to yourself. You’re doing alright.
Take a moment and observe your emotions quietly, without judgment. Avoid labeling your feelings as good or bad. Acknowledge their presence, and let them pass by.
When you practice being kind to yourself, you will eventually gain control of the situation and be more likely to choose to show up for your loved one anytime when they ask for you.
3. Prioritize your self-care routines
Now, this is very important. If you already have things that you do to keep your mental and physical well-being, maintain doing them.
Do you have a morning routine? What about at nighttime? In the middle of the day? Take the time to do things for yourself before you go and support your loved one.
Maybe it’s not the perfect time to add more to your self-care practices because you will often be giving what’s best left of you for that person.
Now could be the ideal time to establish your daily routines and share what’s left of you after yourself with your loved one.
Remember that you cannot support someone when you’re not okay yourself.
Find ways to support yourself before you can start helping others.
Give yourself time first and give what’s best left of you to your loved one to support them the way they need.
4. Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms
Avoid the unhealthy things to cope with, like alcohol, drugs, and pornography.
Start cutting back on these things most, mainly if you use them for coping. You should only engage in them because you enjoy them, not because you feel like you have to.
When you use these things for coping, it will be the start where things become complicated for you.
5. Practice mindfulness meditation
Meditation is very powerful in reducing stress and helping you manage your emotions.
Managing your emotional regulations is very important because it allows you to develop healthy coping mechanisms and be thoughtful about how to act when facing challenges while supporting someone with anxiety.
There are many ways you can practice mindfulness. You don’t have to be a pro at it. There are also available guided meditations online to help you start!
6. Talk to a friend or seek professional help
When things become overwhelming for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to a close friend, a therapist, or a family member.
Talking things over will help you release some of your weight. Remember, you don’t have to carry it all for them; you need others to support yourself, too.
When things become out of hand, seeking professional help is also the right thing to do.
7. Celebrate small wins
Supporting someone with their mental health may be a long road, so celebrate small wins.
When you notice small things improving for your loved one, don’t forget to give a congratulatory note to them and to yourself, too.
If you feel like celebrating it with something like taking yourselves out for fun, go for it!
Celebrating small wins will help your loved one feel a sense of accomplishment, boosting their confidence and encouraging them to face larger challenges.