Showing your support for friends and family can be difficult because what you might think is effective, may actually be more harmful than good. Here are some ways that have been backed by research that will allow you to be as helpful as possible.
1. Realize that things are usually magnified for those with anxiety
People who suffer from anxiety are often misunderstood. People often think that taking a few deep breaths or taking some space will help solve their problems. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. It is important to show support towards loved ones who are anxious by not telling them it will pass or to not sweat the small stuff. For them, their anxiety transforms a seemingly normal everyday situation into something bigger. It is in your best interest to show your support by encouragement, while at the same time not underestimating the situation.
2. Avoid saying phrases like “calm down”
When you use phrases that are telling an anxious person to be less stressed, it often has the opposite effect. For people who do not suffer from anxiety, these phrases usually will do the trick, but an anxious person is wired differently. It is important to support an anxious person by your actions, rather than your words. Bringing a cool washcloth or creating a quiet environment where they can recover is more important than telling them phrases that will only cause them more anxiety.
3. Help them accept their negative thoughts
It may be tempting to tell your anxious loved ones that they should think positively; however, this will not help get to the root of their problem. Anxious people often have the same negative thoughts on a loop. Instead of trying to block them out, it is important for them to acknowledge that they are there and then try to let them go.
4. Help them face their fears head on
For loved ones stricken with anxiety, you may feel it is better to shield them from anything that may induce fear, but in fact the opposite is true. Humans are wired with a behavior called “negative reinforcement”, which means by avoiding something that they already fear, it just reinforces this fact. Helping anxious people face a fear, even if they experience negative emotions can help them in the long run. This can be a tricky situation. Make sure you have their permission first to help them because it is ultimately up to them to change their own behavior.
5. Avoid bringing it up excessively
Loved ones suffering from anxiety may seem to talk about their fears constantly with you, but that does not mean you should feel free to bring it up as well. People with anxiety are constantly thinking about it, so when someone else brings it up it creates more anxiety and embarrassment for them. Instead, bring up common interests that you both enjoy.
6. Avoid leaving them alone
For those with loved ones who are constantly anxious, it may seem like the best thing to do is give them their space, when in fact the opposite is true. People who suffer from anxiety need to be social because it helps distract them from their own thoughts when they are alone. It is important to set-up coffee dates or go to the movies together because it will help ease their anxiety tenfold.
7. Treat them like a normal person
It may be tempting to treat someone with anxiety differently, to be more cautious about how you act or what you say, but it only has a negative effect on them. Anxious people can tell when someone is treating them in a special way and this only increases their stress levels.
8. Try not to take things personally
It might seem like a person with anxiety has a standoffish or disagreeable personality, so it might be hard to not take it personally. However, it is important to practice sympathy in this situation because the person with anxiety is not usually this way at all and is just battling a constant stream of anxious thoughts.
9. Don’t try to relate to them
People who have loved ones who are dealing with anxiety disorders might feel the need to empathize with them; however, this is a harmful way of trying to help them. Comparing a stressful day at work to a person who has been diagnosed with anxiety is not the same. You may inadvertently make it seem like you are underestimating a serious medical disorder.
10. Don’t place blame on yourself
It may seem like some things you do cause more anxiety for someone who has an anxiety disorder, but it is important not to have this mindset. Blaming yourself only creates more stress for both you and your loved one who is suffering from anxiety disorder. The truth is that their anxiety is much more deep-rooted than you think. Your everyday interactions with them are not contributing factors.
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