How To Help Someone You Love Through Heightened Anxiety
The odds of anxiety elbowing its way into your life or that of someone you love are pretty high. Nearly one in five Canadians will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Though there are different types of anxiety disorders, the underlying theme is similar: excessive worrying and fear -- making daily life feel like an uphill battle.
If you’ve ever been around a friend whose experienced spiralling anxiety that is causing them major distress or if you’ve been the recipient of some panicked texts -- you likely know how hard it can be to watch a friend or loved one go through something so difficult and not know how to respond.
There’s no real handbook for this kind of stuff, so in an effort to help loved ones helping their significant other, friend or family overcome anxiety we’ve chatted with some experts on the matter of “what exactly to say when a loved one’s anxiety is heightened”.
We’ve made a list of five responses that can be helpful when your loved one’s anxiety is heightened.
1.“What can I do to help right now?”
Absurdly simple, and may seem fairly obvious, but saying this simple phrase can be incredibly important to the individual experiencing anxiety. Without knowing what the person needs makes it hard to help them and provide them with what they need.
The way people experience anxiety can vary depending on factors like their specific diagnosis, personality, life experiences and so on. Some people may be looking for support, advice or for you to just simply leave them alone. The ask is not always the same with everybody that’s experiencing anxiety. That’s why asking is a better way to support someone without assuming that you know how to help, or you know what they need.
2.“Would it help if I just sat here with you?”
If your loved one, friend or family member is experiencing anxiety so severe they can’t communicate what they want or need from you, sometimes just sitting with them for as long as they need can help. This illustrates support, patience and allows the individual to not feel pressured to try and express how they feel if they are not ready.
When you offer a calm and reassuring presence, it speaks volume to the individual. It communicates that they are loved and supported.
3. “I am always here for you”
Sometimes, voicing some compassion via a text or a phone call can offer reassurance from a distance. By simply sending a kind message or a reassuring text, you can provide an enormous amount of comfort at times when your loved one is experiencing heightened anxiety. Understanding what the person is dealing with can often times provide more comfort, but the point is to provide unwavering support, even when you’re not physically next to them.
4. “Are you looking for advice or would you rather I just listen?”
Sometimes when somebody is expressing a difficult time you might have the urge to immediately give advice, because of course, you want to help them fix anything that’s making them anxious. This could be exactly what they need.
Other times, people want to express themselves without getting a list of things to do in response. Being supportive to your friend or significant other can help them feel more understood, which is why it’s important to clarify if they’re looking for somebody to just hear them out or if they are looking for advice.
Pro tip: Unless they are asking you for advice, they probably just want you to listen to them.
5. “Do you want me to come over?”
If you are not with your friend or loved one while they’re experiencing heighten anxiety, you can offer to chat with them or just hang out.
Your goal is to be supportive without accidentally becoming their safety net or their crutch during heightened anxiety. You want to ensure that you help them through their anxiety and not allow them to rely on you every time they’re getting anxious. This can prolong their journey in overcoming their anxiety. Research has shown that relying on others is a form of avoidance that doesn’t allow the anxiety sufferer to face what makes them anxious. One of the best forms of helping someone to learn to overcome their avoidant behaviours is through what is commonly known as exposure therapy, which is the main component of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
To learn more, check out Tranquility Online, an online CBT platform that includes a personal coach - helping to change avoidant behaviours, and reducing their anxiety by using exposure therapy.
Want to learn more about how Tranquility can help you overcome your anxiety? Learn more about our service here.