It can be heartbreaking to watch our loved one’s struggle with anxiety, and not know how to help. Perhaps we witness them experiencing panic, or maybe we are on the receiving end of their cancelled plans. Either way, it is important that we know how to help those we care about.
You may find this article helpful if you…
- Care about someone who experiences anxiety;
- Are curious about how you can better support someone with an anxiety disorder;
- Want to learn more about anxiety disorders;
- Are exploring options for support, treatment and recovery from anxiety disorder.
Do you want to help someone with anxiety?
If you are reading this, it is likely that you are supporting someone with anxiety. A support person is anyone who:
- Cares about another person experiencing an anxiety disorder, and
- Provides emotional or physical support on a regular basis.
You may be a support person for a colleague, friend, parent or sibling.
Being a support person can feel like a burden at times. You may watch your loved one struggle with seemingly uncontrollable symptoms. Their anxious symptoms may lead them to miss out on events and activities they used to enjoy, and you may feel completely unable to help them.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal part of life. In fact, it has helpful properties and has often kept us alive by encouraging us to flee from danger.
An anxiety disorder however is much more serious. An anxiety disorder develops when the feelings of fear or nervousness do not pass with the stressor or arise without any reasonable cause. The feelings are often accompanied by physical symptoms and significant disruption to everyday life.
If you think you or someone you love may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, you may find this article helpful: Signs and symptoms of anxiety
The importance of social support in recovery
Social support and interaction has been identified as a specific psychological aid for mental health recovery and relapse prevention. Although this may seem obvious, many people with anxiety may wish to isolate themselves from social connections, making it difficult to reap the benefits from this natural mood booster.
In addition, those experiencing an anxiety disorder – especially social anxiety – can struggle to maintain strong social skills in light of their anxious thoughts and symptoms. They may find it difficult to meet new people, maintain eye contact or engage in conversation. It is important that they are able to seek support from close friends to help them manage these daunting situations.
Quality over quantity when it comes to impact of social support
Research has suggested that there does not need to be a wide network of social supports for it to be effective, but rather a small group of friends can be just as effective as a large one!
Looking after yourself first
You have likely heard the phrase, “You cannot fill from an empty cup.” This phrase applies well here too.
You cannot help those you care about if you are not well yourself. It is important that you are ensuring your own wellbeing and seeking support for yourself if you need it.
This may look like reading articles and equipping yourself with knowledge, accessing support from a counsellor or psychologist, or enacting daily routines of self care.
Are you supporting someone with anxiety?
Download our free PDF support guide.
Ways to help someone with anxiety
It can feel overwhelming when we don’t know how to help someone with anxiety. Here are five simple ways you can provide support to someone you care about.
1. Know the signs and symptoms of anxiety
Each person experiences an anxiety disorder differently. Although there are some common signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder, it is important that you ask your loved one what their specific experiences are.
They may have some “warning signs” that tell them their anxiety is coming, or perhaps they have certain triggers that make them feel anxious. Knowing what these things are will help you be better prepared for when they might need some additional support.
Some warning signs or symptoms of anxiety may include feeling:
- “Clammy”, sweaty or experiencing chills;
- Butterflies or nauseas in the stomach;
- On high alert, jumpy, fidgety or sensitive to things happening around you;
- Out of body or like you are watching your own life in a movie.
A person’s anxious triggers could be: busy or loud environments like a shopping centre or public transport, family gatherings, work, school or university.
2. Educate yourself about helpful strategies for managing anxiety
There are lots of helpful strategies for managing signs and symptoms of anxiety. You may not know what will be specifically helpful for your loved one, but it can be good to have a few strategies to try.
This strategy helps your loved one focus on their breath by imagining that they are trying to make a candle flicker. Help them breathe in deeply and slowly by counting to three, and then encourage them to breathe out again slowly, while visualising the flickering flame.
Related: Strategies for managing anxiety
Mindfulness and meditation
The candle breathe exercise is a type of mindfulness exercise, but there are many more strategies you can try to help focus someone on the present moment and calm their anxious feelings. Other exercises you could try include:
- A body scan;
- Five sights, four sounds, three touch, two smell and one taste;
- A verbal list of things you are thankful for.
Mastery and achievement activities
Providing your loved one with a small mastery activity can be a helpful way to break the anxious thoughts. It is important to keep the tasks simple and achievable, such as having a shower, drinking a bottle of water, going for a short walk or colouring a picture.
3. Be aware of support contacts – Lifeline, Headspace and 000
If you feel like your loved one’s symptoms of anxiety are out of your control, it may be helpful to connect them with additional support contacts. Helplines like Lifeline (13 11 14) and Headspace (1800 650 890) can provide round the clock advice and support. You may even benefit from speaking to someone yourself – they can provide helpful advice and tips on how to help your loved one.
Beyond Blue also provide a comprehensive list of support contacts: click here to see them.
The Banyans reminds you that if you are concerned about someone’s safety or are seriously concerned about their emotional or physical wellbeing, do not hesitate to contact 000 or your nearest emergency service.
4. Help them receive professional support
One in seven Australians will experience anxiety every twelve months, making it the most prevalent mental health condition in the country. These conditions account for almost 12% of our national disease burden, yet could be “improved by current treatment, rehabilitative and preventative efforts”.
With appropriate treatment and support, anxiety disorders can be well managed. One of the first steps to seeking treatment is to contact a therapeutic treatment provider that can help.
Related: Treatments for anxiety
A psychologist or counsellor may be an extremely helpful professional support for someone experiencing anxiety. A therapist is specially trained in mental health conditions, the management of triggers and symptoms, as well as numerous tools and strategies for recovery.
One of the most effective ways you can help your loved one is to help connect them with a suitably qualified psychologist or therapist, and ensure they attend their sessions as often as necessary.
A residential treatment rehab program
The Banyans Health and Wellness is a private treatment residence for those experiencing anxiety disorder and other co-occurring conditions. Although an intensive program may not be right for everyone, it is a suitable option for those wanting multidisciplinary treatment for mental health conditions.
5. Offer practical help
When people are ill with flu, we are often willing to offer a helping hand. Maybe a meal, their washing or a trip to the park with the kids. These gestures are just as appreciated when someone is experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Offering our practical help can extend kindness in a way that is tangible and much appreciated – especially if the signs and symptoms of anxiety are making it difficult to engage in our everyday lives.
You have the power to help someone with anxiety
Did you know that almost half of all enquiries to The Banyans come from support people? You are able to help your loved one seek the support they need to live well again.
Don’t let an anxiety disorder rob them of their chance to live an enriching life. The Banyans can help them regain control over their anxiety, and pursue life with resilience. Call us today.