Learning how to help someone with anxiety can help you support your loved one through a difficult time.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry or unease about things that haven’t happened yet. A little anxiety is good; it can motivate you to get your work done or take on new projects, and it can keep you safe in dangerous situations. Everyone experiences different amounts of anxiety, ranging from mild to severe.
Not all people who experience anxiety have a disorder, although many do. Anxiety disorders are very common in the United States, affecting around 18% of Americans. Some people with anxiety also experience panic attacks, which are brief episodes of intense anxiety. Someone experiencing high levels of anxiety or a panic attack may feel like they are losing control over their lives.
The first step in helping a person with anxiety is to be aware of the signs and symptoms.
What Are the Signs of Anxiety?
Anxiety has a variety of different symptoms which fall into different categories. A person who is anxious will experience some of these, but not necessarily all of them. Anxiety manifests differently for different people.
Imagine how you would feel if you were being chased by a tiger. In most people, fear brings about a fight, flight, or freeze response. The body will usually prepare the person to fight the perceived threat or run away from it. Others will be frozen in place, unable to fight or flee. If the threat was real, and the person was really being chased by a tiger, the freeze response would put them in a very dangerous situation. With anxiety, the threat is not real, but the body prepares itself as though it is real with a variety of different physical reactions, thoughts, and behaviors.
- Rapid heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Feeling restless
- Diarrhea/upset stomach
- Excessive worry
- Racing thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling out of control
- Believing the worst will happen
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Avoidance of fearful situations
- Distress in social situations
- Compulsive behaviors such as excessive hand washing
How to Help Someone with Anxiety
1. Show Support
Let your loved one with anxiety know that you are there for them. Show them you care by listening without judgement. You don’t have to understand their anxiety to be there and listen to them. Don’t minimize their experience by dismissing their feelings.
2. Express Concern
Let them know you have noticed changes in their behavior that concern you. Tell them what behaviors you have noticed change. Are they not hanging out with their friends anymore? Have they been late or missed work? Communicate these concerns in a positive way by saying something like “Hey, I’ve noticed you haven’t been going to your karate class lately, can you share with me what brought about that change?”
3. Validate Fears and Feelings
One of the worst things you can do is to tell someone with anxiety that their feelings aren’t a big deal. This is dismissing and invalidating and will make them unlikely to trust you with their feelings in the future. Sharing their fears and feelings with you is a big deal for someone with anxiety. Reassure them that anxiety is normal and can be treated. Don’t judge their fears, just acknowledge them and ask how you can help.
4. Ask How You Can Help
Ask your friend or family member how you can help them with their anxiety. Many people with anxiety know some of the things that make them feel better and what things don’t help them. Ask what has helped to calm them down in the past and try to help them implement some of those to bring their anxiety level down. Keep in mind that what worked at one time may not work every time. Ask what they need now and do what they ask. It may be something as simple as needing to talk, or just needing you to sit beside them quietly.
What Not To Do For Someone With Anxiety
Anxiety can grow worse if it isn’t dealt with, so changing the environment to ease your loved one’s anxiety can be unhelpful even though it feels like the kind thing to do. Gently encouraging the person to try some of the things they are anxious about with your help and support is a better strategy.
Panic attacks can be frightening and lead to increased avoidance of anxiety-causing triggers. Avoiding the problem can often make it worse in the long run. If your friend or family member doesn’t seem ready to tackle some of these fears in small parts on their own, ask them gently if they have considered getting treatment for their anxiety.
Pushing someone to try things that make them anxious before they are ready can make their anxiety worse instead of better. It can also be harmful to your relationship with them as it may make them feel that you are unsupportive or that their anxiety is not normal. Allowing them to work on their anxiety with an experienced therapist will help them improve while also keeping your relationship intact.
Anxiety Treatment Options
There are a variety of anxiety treatment options that may be right for someone experiencing symptoms. Your loved one may benefit from anxiety treatment with or without medication. When medication is used it is best to combine it with another treatment such as CBT, which is more effective than medication alone. A number of traditional and nontraditional therapies have shown success with treating anxiety.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective anxiety treatment options available. CBT can be used for many psychological disorders and has been very effective as an anxiety treatment option. CBT helps you identify faulty thinking patterns that contribute to the problems you experience in your daily life. By using techniques that develop more healthy and positive beliefs, a person with anxiety can regain a sense of control, learn to manage symptoms, and correct negative thinking patterns such as all-or-nothing thinking and believing the worst will happen. CBT is also a very successful treatment option for depression which frequently occurs alongside anxiety.
There are many types of therapy that involve the support of animals. One great option for anxiety treatment is Equine Therapy, which allows a person to gain confidence through interactions with horses. Animals are non judgemental, and making a connection with a horse who doesn’t care about your anxiety can be a healing experience. The relationship between animal and human can result in more open, trusting relationships with others in the person’s life. Equine therapy is also an excellent treatment for depression, making it another great option for treating co-occurring depression and anxiety.
Art Therapy allows you to explore and express your emotions in a creative manner. It is an excellent form of therapy for anyone who has trouble verbally expressing their feelings. With anxiety, it can often be difficult to put the feeling of being overwhelmed into words. Art and the use of different colors can allow for this expression and also be a calming and relaxing experience. You don’t have to be an artist to benefit from art therapy. While the goal of an artist is to make beautiful art, the goal of art therapy is the process of making art and frequently leads to emotional release. This anxiety treatment option is successful in reducing stress, expressing difficult emotions, and increasing positive coping skills.
Another treatment for anxiety is Music Therapy. Learning to play an instrument, listening to music, or moving along to music can help improve your focus, help you express your thoughts and feelings, and reduce stress. Listening to a playlist of songs that calms you can reduce anxiety symptoms, making music therapy a great option for anxiety treatment.
Yoga, both an ancient spiritual practice and a form of exercise, can be found in gyms all over America. Yoga Therapy focuses on releasing trauma that is stored in the body. It can be combined with other trauma-focused therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) or Psychodrama to help free the body from past trauma. Yoga Therapy is effective in reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and building confidence.
Integrative Life Center Can Help With Anxiety
These are just a few of the anxiety treatment options offered at Integrative Life Center that can be helpful for people with anxiety. Because there are so many quality options, your loved one will be sure to find something that works for them. If you or someone you know struggle with anxiety, contact us for information on how we can help.