Anxiety disorder can have a negative impact not only on the person experiencing it, but also on the loved ones and colleagues of someone with the condition. Whether you are the spouse, child, parent, or co-worker of the person suffering from anxiety disorder, you may have to deal with unhealthy attachment patterns as the anxiety disorder sufferer becomes overly dependent on you, or becomes overly avoidant of your relationship.
Helping someone who is struggling with anxiety can be intimidating at first, as you may feel like your assistance is not needed, or that the person needs to have some alone time without you checking up on them on a consistent basis. While your friend or spouse may seem distant, it does not necessarily translate to them wanting to purposely isolate themselves. More often than not, they fear that divulging their condition to others is the best way to put a damper on their relationships, so they keep it to themselves even when they need someone who will listen to them.
So how can you help someone with anxiety?
First, you need to understand that anxiety does not make someone mentally deficient, so do not view them as such, and try to look deeply into their condition without judgment. We all get anxious at times because of our fears of potential threats and rejections. Some degree of anxiety helps keep us alert, so we can become more aware of the situation we are facing, and can avoid being deceived. While it seem like a flaw to have this condition, understand that it may have started as a general emotion of alertness before it became a more serious mental health issue. With a clear understanding of what causes anxiety and how it manifests, you can offer help without making the person feel like he or she is inherently flawed. (1)
Recognize that the person cannot simply “snap out of it”
There is nothing more frustrating to an anxiety disorder sufferer than hearing people say that they can just snap out of it to end the sleepless nights, heart palpitations, and anxiety attacks. To help someone with anxiety, you need to educate yourself that mental illness is as real as physical health problems. Just like diabetes for example, there are no shortcuts to treating the condition, and the person cannot decide to simply “snap out of it”. However, this is not to say that self-help will have no positive impact on the mental health of the sufferer. He or she may benefit from practicing self-care, but lasting recovery will require the help of anxiety disorder therapists. With this understanding, you can break the stigma about anxiety, and are able to provide support to the person as he or she works through to full recovery.(2)
Picture a life marked by constant fear of impending danger, humiliation, and calamities. This is how people with anxiety live their lives. Now put yourself in their situation and imagine that on top of it all, you have to deal with your relationships and strive not to be suspicious of your loved ones and colleagues, or try to prevent yourself from becoming overly attached to friends and family. At times, these emotions can be so overwhelming that the person can feel like she is going to have a mental breakdown, or die. Fortunately, the person can overcome an episode of high anxiety by having someone around them who will give them assurance that everything will be okay. One way you can help someone having a panic attack is to remind them they are not stuck, and that they can leave a place if they feel threatened or uncomfortable staying in it. The person is probably finding it a lot more difficult to realize that there is no real danger, so it is important that you give them assurance that they are safe and that he or she has you to help them through the panic attack.
For a person having an anxiety attack, it may feel like there is no escape and that the chest pain and trembling will never come to an end. Stay with them through it, and remind them that the panic attack is only temporary. Despite the intense feeling of fear, they will find comfort in knowing that their heart palpitations and fear of impending doom will go away eventually.
Encourage the person to seek professional help
Living with anxiety disorder causes constant fears that can disrupt someone’s day-to-day activities. To help a person overcome the condition, encourage him or her to consult with a professional anxiety disorder therapist who can properly evaluate the symptoms and problematic behaviors that may be unknown to the person suffering from anxiety. You can offer help and support, but ultimately, it will take an expert to identify and address the condition to help the person achieve a lasting recovery from the mental health issue. A professional will also be able to suggest an appropriate anxiety treatment plan that is suited to the unique needs of the person you are trying to help.