How to help a family member or friend with anxiety issues

In 2019, approximately 301 million people worldwide suffered from an anxiety disorder. The health crisis caused by COVID-19 and social networks have contributed to aggravate this problem and recently an increase in anxiety levels has been observed in the general population. After the first year of the pandemic, the prevalence of anxiety and depression around the world has increased by more than 25%, according to statistics published by the WHO.

Often, those around people with anxiety disorders do not know how to help them. This means that in many cases they feel frustrated and confused when trying to support or support their loved ones. It is recommended that the family and friends around anxious people know what to do to provide adequate support without weighing the person down.

In this article you will find some key ideas on what to do to help someone with anxiety. This series of general guidelines includes support without pushing too hard and a series of tips on what to avoid when supporting someone with anxiety.

What can we do to help someone with anxiety issues?

Anxiety always appears as a response to a situation that people experience involuntarily and automatically. In many cases, this feeling does more harm than good; it also causes pain and different feelings of discomfort.

Anxiety disorders are the most common class of mental illnesses in Western countries like the United States, and affects 40 million adults over the age of 18. Knowing the signs of this condition and knowing how to deal with it can help us recognize, as well as deal with, a loved one who is suffering from an anxiety problem.

Anxiety disorders require people to change their habits and learn new ways of relating to anxiety and the events that cause its symptoms to appear. Often, family and friends are essential in helping patients develop these new routines. Once adopted, these practices can help people with anxiety disorders gradually reduce anxiety symptoms and related problems.

Below you will find a series of guidelines, grouped into 4 broad categories, to support people who suffer from anxiety problems; these tips range from the simplest actions to seeking outside help in cases that require it.

1. Learn to recognize the signs of anxiety

Watching a loved one experience frequent panic attacks and dealing with daily anxiety can be extremely distressing. However, there are things that can be done to help. The first is to learn to recognize the signs of the problem and the common symptoms faced by a person with an anxiety problem, to detect the warning signs associated with a possible disorder: a phobia, a generalized anxiety disorder, a tendency panic attacks, etc. .

People who suffer from anxiety problems often show noticeable changes in their behavior. These changes may come from an immediate response to the anxiety problem or be the indirect consequence of hiding the problem, in the case, for example, of the person feeling ashamed. Here are some examples of these behavioral changes: decreased interest in certain activities that were previously enjoyable, frequent mood swings, irritability and withdrawal, excuses and avoidance of specific situations. Other signs may include seeking safer conditions and expressing defensive attitudes such as wariness and vigilance.

2. Search for information

Finding out what is going on is the first thing, for this it is advisable to inform yourself and try to understand the situation. The information allows you to make sense of the problem and understand how it can really help. By increasing the level of understanding, we can also make informed decisions. In the case of anxiety problems, information can be obtained from two main sources: the person concerned and informative articles.

When someone is suffering from an anxiety problem, it is important to actively listen to try to understand what is happening to them. It means paying attention to what you are experiencing without doubting their word, dismissing what they have to say or being judgmental. If the patient has already consulted a professional, it is useful to show interest in the assessments or ideas that the specialist has suggested.

It is also useful to consult specialized articles, in depth, when it comes to understanding anxiety. This type of information can be found in books, accredited websites or from specialized health professionals. These documents cover topics such as what anxiety is, symptoms, causes, types, and possible treatments.

3. Put yourself in a position to help without judging

Putting yourself in a position to help is a process similar to active listening; both relate to being a receptacle for the problem. This idea refers to a person’s ability to empathize, take the victim’s point of view, and offer help.

As we have seen, anxiety produces a whole series of unpleasant sensations, although it is necessary to be able to speak, doing too much can be counterproductive and favor the persistence of the manifestations. Instead, adopting a sympathetic attitude is recommended; It involves listening and being ready to do so, but only when the other person needs it. It has more to do with availability and trust than with listening itself., it will show the other that we are there for what he needs. Additionally, to put ourselves in a position to help, we can:

3.1. Share concerns

Sharing your worries and fears with others can bring some relief. Although it is only temporary, it provides an escape from stress. Being able to speak can mean breaking away from discomfort: although these worries do not go away, by involving others at least they can remain under some control.

3.2. Don’t trivialize the situation

It is important to avoid trivializing or disqualifying the person with anxiety issues. It will make them feel judged, ridiculed and rejected. Instead, you should try to avoid fights, scoldings, and ironic comments; it’s about helping the person feel that we understand and accept their problem.

3.3. Don’t blame the person

When a person is in pain, there is no point in blaming them or trying to get them to take control of the situation. It only makes them helpless and more anxious, probably the same anxiety prevents them from implementing solutions or taking responsibility for the problem. In place, it is better to accept the current situation and find ways to help that don’t involve guilt or empty advice.

3.4. don’t worry too much

The relief of the patient’s anxiety must be done with care; trying to do it in a dramatic way can increase the other person’s stress. If the other person feels responsible for our discomfort, it would have a negative effect by increasing their level of anxiety instead of reducing it.

3.5. Objective the situation

Help the anxious person view situations more realistically and accurately. Anxiety tends to involve overestimating threats and underestimating resources. It is important for a person who suffers from anxiety to understand that they can find answers to their problems. Focusing on this can help them develop realistic expectations of what their solution might look like. It must be remembered that objectifying the situation means encourage the person to face their fears instead of protecting them and confirm their unreasonable suspicions.

4. Seek external support from a professional

For for some anxious patients, finding specialized help is an additional source of stress, and in this sense, supporting family, friends and loved ones in the search can reduce the stress on the initial problem. The important thing is that in situations like this where the person feels so anxious that it limits them on a day-to-day basis, they end up going to therapy.

Similarly, if a person’s anxiety disorder gets worse over time despite preventive measures, it may be helpful to encourage them to consult a professional. In this sense, if you are looking for psychotherapeutic assistance services, I invite you to contact me.

My number is Paloma Rey, I am a general health psychologist and I provide services in person and online via video call.

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