Anxiety can have a profound negative impact on those who experience it. It can also have a negative impact on friends, co-workers and loved-ones.
Anxiety can affect people physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Many find their lives dramatically impacted. Anxiety can be fraught with distressing and debilitating sensations and symptoms, as well as cause severe lifestyle restriction. These challenges often cause people to feel frightened, confused, and frustrated. Those struggling with anxiety can experience many distressing sensations, symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Anxiety often impacts many systems in the body, including the nervous system, endocrine system, respiratory system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, and digestive system. In addition to these biological symptoms, most sufferers also experience distressing thoughts and emotions.
People who experience anxiety can easily become inwardly-focused, frightened, short-tempered, confused, discouraged, distant, uncaring, child-like, and hypochondriac once an anxiety disorder occurs. People struggling with anxiety may look fine on the outside, but they often experience a raging battle on the inside – a battle that only someone who personally experiences anxiety could fully understand.
The severity of a person’s condition generally determines the degree and frequency of symptoms. Because of the nature of anxiety, people often battle with confusion, fear, and despair – and they often feel that there is no way out. Most people who suffer from anxiety would like to feel normal again. But overcoming anxiety disorder is a process that takes time, and often much more time than most people expect.
Ways To Help Someone With Anxiety:
Anxiety doesn’t mean the person is mentally inferior or deficient.
Try not to view the person as inferior or deficient. Anxiety is caused by overly apprehensive behavior – which have been learned as ways of coping with life. Behaviors are learned during our formative years (birth to age 8). Most people with anxiety learned those behaviors from a parent(s) or those who raised them and/or greatly influenced them. Those that struggle with anxiety do not deliberately choose to adopt overly apprehensive behavior, but that they have come to feel that this behavior is normal. In order to overcome anxiety, a person needs to learn healthy ways of coping with life. To that end, overcoming anxiety disorder requires getting the right information, help, and support. While the road to recovery isn’t easy or quick, success can be attained through effort and perseverance. There is no reason to feel sorry for the person who struggles with anxiety disorder. Offer empathy and support rather than sympathy.
Anxiety isn’t something a person can ‘just snap out of it’.
There are NO shortcuts or ‘quick fixes’. While self-help information can be beneficial, often full and lasting recovery requires the assistance and support of an experienced counselor or therapist. With this understanding, you can be more supportive and help the person get the help he needs. And then, support him as he works through to lasting success.
Reassure the person that they are going to be okay.
Anxiety can create one of the strongest responses the body can experience. It can create intense emotions, feelings, sensations, and symptoms. This is why in the midst of high anxiety, a person can feel like he/she is going to lose her mind, have a complete breakdown, or die. Fortunately, even though anxiety is a powerful force, it alone is not dangerous and doesn’t lead to a mental collapse, breakdown, or death. Once the person calms down, all of these strong emotions, feelings, sensations, and symptoms diminish and eventually disappear. So when a person is having an episode of high anxiety, reassuring that its going to be okay can help calm them down, which will lead to the cessation of the strong feelings of anxiety.
Stay calm, and help the person to calm down.
Anxiety is predicated on fear – fear that is rational or irrational. Fear activates the stress response, which can cause a number of physiological, psychological, and emotional changes. These changes can produce anxiety sensations and symptoms. Often it is these sensations and symptoms that cause people to react with more fear. Regardless of whether the fear is rational or irrational, we can always find ways of calming ourselves so that the body shuts off the stress response, which leads to feeling better. Encourage the person to calm down and settle themselves. As they calm, they will feel better. It can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from an activated stress response. Remaining calm yourself can provide an example for the person undergoing an episode of anxiety.
Encourage the person to do something about their anxiety.
Being empathetic and supportive is helpful. However, if the person isn’t working at overcoming anxiety disorder, your empathy and support won’t be enough. Anxiety is only resolves when a person works at it. Anxiety seldom resolves on its own. So be an encourager, not an enabler. Encourage the person to seek the necessary help. Encourage and support her as he/she works at making healthy behavioral change.
Encourage him/her to seek professional help.
Anxiety is caused by unhealthy behavior. While self-help information can be beneficial, a professional anxiety disorder counselor/therapist is almost always required to overcome problematic anxiety because many of these behaviors are invisible, and therefore, unknown to the sufferer. Unless the person is professionally trained, it’s unrealistic to think he/she would be able to identify, successfully address, and help themselves back to lasting anxiety disorder-free health.
Support the person in their decision to seek counseling/therapy.
Traditionally, society has had a dim view of counseling/therapy. Fortunately, this view is changing. More people today are seeking professional help for psychological and emotional challenges than ever before. Professional counseling/therapy skill-sets are improving as independent research on their effectiveness improves. Because of recent strides in research and resulting techniques, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is now recognized as the ‘gold standard’ for anxiety disorder resolution.
If someone you know wants to pursue counseling/therapy for her anxiety disorder, encourage her to proceed and support her as she continues. Overcoming anxiety disorder takes time and effort, and as a result, can be discouraging. Encouraging the person to continue can help them work through times of discouragement.
Let the person know they can talk with you anytime and without fear of judgment. Also let them know that you aren’t going to change the way you think of them because they are dealing with anxiety. You are there to support in any way needed. Letting the person know they can count on you can make a positive difference in recovery.
People with anxiety disorders can sound like a broken record – rehashing the same topics and fears over and over again. While you might understand the nature of their struggle and see it clearly, the sufferer doesn’t. Rehashing the same issues is usually due to an established a fear. Rehashing is a way of trying to come to terms with fears. During times like these, listen and reassure patiently. Over time, the ongoing reinforcement can be helpful in extinguishing long-held fears.
Learn everything you can about anxiety disorder, then help her by providing ongoing information, support, and reassurance.
Knowledge is power. This is particularly true with anxiety disorder. If you want to help someone with anxiety, become an expert on the condition. The more you know about anxiety, the better help you can be. A knowledgeable support person can help someone struggling with anxiety find their way and reassure them that everything is going to be okay. Ongoing guidance and reassurance can play a pivotal role in recovery.
Empathize, don’t patronize. Try to be as supportive, loving, and empathetic as you can.
People with anxiety typically feel bad enough about what is going on in their life. They don’t want your sympathy, but do appreciate your understanding, compassion, and the necessary time to get their condition under control.
Celebrate the small victories along the way to lasting success.
Overcoming anxiety takes a lot of work. To help with success, celebrate the little steps and victories along the way Make a big deal about them. Doing so can be very encouraging. Overcoming anxiety is a process that unfolds in many little steps. Progress is often slow and can be discouraging along the way. Celebrating and making a big deal about each victory can help the person remain encouraged, which can also keep the person working the process.
Encourage and help the person to feel better about themselves. Low self-esteem is often associated with a struggle with anxiety.
If depression is involved, take suicidal comments seriously.
Call for emergency help if you believe the person is serious about taking his or her own life. It’s best to err on the side of safety.
Continually offer hope
Anyone can overcome anxiety with the right information, help, and support. Freedom from anxiety is attainable, even though it can be a lot of work. Your continued reassurance can help a person get through the drudge of recovery. As above, there aren’t any ‘miracle’ or ‘quick-fix’ cures for anxiety. Overcoming it requires getting the right information, help, and support, and then doing the work required. But, success is attainable for anyone willing to do the work. Helping a person through this process can make a significant difference, especially when you know how to help.