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Individuals who have anxiety disorders often find it hard to deal with their condition, but people who love or are close to them can find it difficult, as well. They may feel helpless as they watch their friends or family members suffer.
If you do not have an anxiety disorder, it may be difficult to understand what the other person is experiencing—and yet you may want to offer some form of support.
Here are some methods to help someone with anxiety disorder:
1. Read Up
First, you need to learn all you can about your friend or family member's specific condition. Anxiety disorders can range from mild to very severe forms and can be caused by a number of factors. Don't expect anxiety disorders to be similar to normal anxiety people may generally experience every now and then. When you understand what causes a certain condition and how it is treated, you can provide better help.
You can look up information on the Internet, talk to a specialist, read up on the latest news in professional journals and magazines, and purchase or borrow from the library books on the anxiety disorder.
There are generally 4 commonly known anxiety disorders:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): People with generalized anxiety disorder are excessively worried about many things, even when there is little or nothing to be concerned or anxious about. The worries are usually unrealistic and people who are suffering from a severe form of GAD can have much difficulty going about their daily lives. GAD develops gradually, often starting in a sufferer’s teenage years or during early adulthood. Diagnosis is usually made when excessive worrying on everyday issues persist for at least 6 months.
- Panic disorder: This anxiety disorder is characterized by sudden, recurring episodes of intense fear/terror usually accompanied by physical discomforts such as dizziness, heart palpitations or shortness of breath (commonly known as panic attacks). Some panic attacks last only minutes but some may persist for hours. Panic attacks will usually subside naturally. The biggest worry for sufferers is the likelihood of another attack.
- Social anxiety disorder: This disorder is also known as social phobia and is one of the most common types of anxiety disorder. A person suffering from social phobia experience excessive and unnecessary feelings of intense fear and worry in social situations. These feelings of fear and worry usually manifest because the individual is overly self-conscious and is afraid of judgement by others. Social phobia can occur in a wide range of social situations for some sufferers or at specific types of situations (e.g. public speaking/performance). During extreme distress, social phobia may lead to a panic attack.
- Specific phobias: A specific phobia is an intense and irrational fear when exposed to a specific object or situation. Phobias can be generally classified into several types, namely situational fear (e.g. of the dark, confined space), animal fear (e.g. spiders, snakes), natural environment fear (e.g. typhoons, heights), injury fear (e.g. fear of blood, a procedure, getting hurt). In extreme situations, phobias can also lead to panic attacks.
Other anxiety disorders include:
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: Extreme anxiety concerning separation from home or from people that the individual is very emotional attached to (e.g. parents, siblings).
- Selective Mutism: Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder whereby an individual fails to speak in certain situations or to a specific person or group of people, even though he/she is fully capable of speech.
- Agoraphobia: This is a type of anxiety whereby an individual is afraid of certain environments which will cause great discomfort and a sense of helplessness or danger. Usually individuals are fearful of crowded places or vast open spaces. Sufferers usually have a difficult time feeling safe in any public place, especially when it is crowded.
- Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety caused by a substance’s effect on the individual while under the influence of the substance or when the substance is withdrawn. Substance can be chemicals from food sources (e.g. caffeine), or a prescribed, over the counter or street drug. Anxiety may be due to proper or misuse of the drug.
- Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Examples of medical conditions that may cause anxiety include thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, heart disease, diabetes.
2. Help To Find Acceptance
It can be a shock to learn that your friend or family have an anxiety issue. You and the affected individual will usually start asking questions like "Why him/her?", "What did he/she do?". As both of you learn more about the anxiety problem, feelings of shock and fear may change to feelings of unhappiness (because of how it is impacting yours or the affected individual’s life), anger, and anxiety (because you and the affected person are constantly worried about his/her health).
Instead of letting emotions take control, practice mindfulness and acceptance. Acceptance does not mean that you and the individual with anxiety are surrendering to the illness. It does not change the fact that he/she is suffering from anxiety, but it will transform how each of you think and react to difficult situations. This in turn, can help to create huge transformations. It is especially important to be calm and supportive when helping someone with anxiety and not be even more anxious and fearful than they are (which makes matters worst).
Finding acceptance can benefit by helping the affected individual be more proactive in managing his/her condition; e.g., he/she will try to learn more about their illness, research on more alternative treatment options, be on time for their medical appointments - instead of avoiding anything that will remind them that they are sick. This in turn may help to improve their health and also give themselves the assurance that they have done whatever they can for themselves, within the best of their abilities.
3. Be There And Listen
Being physically present can be more powerful than anything you may say. In fact, most of the time, it is quite possible that you may say the wrong thing. You don't have to know the right things to say all the time. The aim is just to get the person with anxiety disorder to talk. Keep it simple and then be ready to lend a listening ear.
What you should not say:
- "I understand what you are going through"
- "Let me know if you need me."
- "You ll get over it"
- "When I feel anxious and unhappy, I will..."
What you could say:
- Instead of pretending to know exactly what the other person is feeling, validate how they are feeling "I can't imagine what you are going through right now, but I know you are unhappy/anxious and I care about you."
- Don't just offer blanket open support. Take the initiative and action and offer something concrete. " Can I bring you out for coffee tomorrow?" or "I will call you later and we can chat."
- The anxiety and panic that individuals with anxiety disorders experience are different from the normal anxiety that you feel. It can be a very intense and fearful experience so don't simply dismiss the seriousness of it by telling the person that he/she will get over it. Instead you can say "I am hopeful you will recover and I will be here to help you through it if you need me."
- It's good to share your experience of anxiety (if any), but the more important thing is to focus on the individual and allow him/her to know that they can talk openly and you will listen without judgement. "You can talk to me about anything and I am not here to judge you. I am here if you need someone to talk to."
4. Don't Expect Miracles
It takes time for someone with anxiety to deal with their illness (if they even seek treatment at all). According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), people who use cognitive behavioral therapy (a common solution for anxiety problems) will see the benefits only after 12 to 16 weeks, depending on the individual. So, it can be a long and ongoing process. Therefore, don’t expect any miracles.
Knowing how to help someone with anxiety means you need to be ready to forgive and don't get frustrated. Anxiety can cause an individual to behave irrationally out of fear and confusion. Forgive any hurtful things that they may say or do to you. Managing anxiety disorders take time so never give up on them and make sure you let them know it too.
It is also important to recognize and celebrate every victories, be it big or small. Remind the person who is dealing with anxiety to give thanks to himself or herself for the effort put it. This helps to keep you and as well the individual suffering from anxiety positive and also help to break down your goals and milestones to a more manageable level.
5. Find Other Support
You can also look for support groups for caregivers or friends/family of those suffering from anxiety disorders. Besides offering you emotional support, you can also find great ideas on how to help someone with anxiety.
If these sorts of support groups are not available, don't be afraid to start you own as well. There are millions of people suffering from anxiety disorders, each with people who love and care for them. Contact your local community center or hospital to check if such support groups are available.
When dealing with a friend or family member's anxiety disorder, it is also important to remember to take care of your own health as well. Helping someone who is dealing with any kind of medical condition, including a mental illness, can be emotionally draining and physically difficult. Don't be afraid to ask for your own medical help by talking to a doctor or therapist. Take care of yourself so you can provide better support for others. You can improve your diet to help deal with any stress and anxieties. One of the easiest way to a better diet is juicing. For more information, you can read the article below.
- Juicing for Stress and Anxiety
Learn about essential nutrients, simple juicing recipes, and different types of juicers. Juicing for stress and anxiety is simple, natural, and totally effective.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Kawai
Dianna Mendez on February 19, 2017:
Your section on Be there and listen is advice I will use with those who suffer from anxiety. I've had friends with feelings of anxiety and now I will know how to be supportive.
Brandon Clay Zolman from Mt. Vernon on January 25, 2017:
I also have general anxiety disorder, which also correlates with depression. Once one is triggered the other is at high alert and soon to follow. Personally I have come to dealing with it myself after dealing with this at a higher rate for the last 5-6 years. Mind you I am 21. The thing that makes the feelings worse for me, is when someone does tell me, "You'l get over it," or expect me to be fine after letting them in and telling them what is going on. Surround yourself with friends you can open up to and that WILL walk along side you through both the ups and downs. Typically talking about the situation at hand does not always address the deeper problem. Don't be too pushy but don't feel like you have failed them. You might not see them accepting your support, but they see your concern and it means everything.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on January 25, 2017:
I have general anxiety disorder and several members of my family have other types of anxiety. We have to be extra careful in our daily activities not to set off each other's triggers! We also have to take the time to listen to each other and do kind things to bolster each other's feelings of self worth.