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14 Things to Remember If You Love an Anxious Person

14 Things to Remember If You Love an Anxious Person

Relationships can be hard to maintain, but if the person you love suffers from anxiety, that can open a whole other world of challenges.

A 2014 YouGov survey carried out in the U.K during mental health awareness week found that almost 1 in 5 people felt anxious all of the time, or a lot of the time. Additionally, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S, affecting 40 million adults over 18.

Think about that. Forty million anxious people. If one person cares about each one of them, that means at least another 40 million people are in turn affected by that anxiety. You could probably double, trible or quadruple that number of course. Clearly anxiety is not a trivial condition.

If you are the person who loves or cares about an anxious person, you will know how important it is to listen and encourage them to get help to cope with their anxiety. At times though that might not be enough for you to be able to cope. Remembering these 14 things can help during the tough times.

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1. They are not their anxiety.

Think of anxiety like a really bad head cold. It makes the sufferer unwell enough to not be firing on all cylinders, yet not quite ill enough to be able to stop their lives and seek medical attention. That’s a difficult condition to be in, and for you to deal with. One moment they seem fine and able to cope with the rigors of daily life, and then suddenly the ‘head cold’ has kicked in and everything is bleak. This can be exhausting, leaving you unsure what you can trust or rely on. That uncertainty can bleed into how you view and treat your loved one. Because they don’t seem so very ill, it’s hard to separate the illness from the personality. Remember the anxiety is not who they are as a person (anymore than a mucus-filled head and sandpaper throat is a picture of good physical health). So if they have an “episode” and you’re finding it hard to cope, imagine they are sneezing or blowing their nose vigorously. All you are seeing are the symptoms–not the person.

2. Their anxiety is not you.

People have a sponge-like quality. We gradually absorb things from those we spend time with. Just think how quickly kids pick up mannerisms from watching T.V.

If you spend a lot of time with an anxious person this fact can be good and not-so-good. The danger is that soaking up so much of their anxious behavior can affect how you feel. You might not notice it at first, but at some point you may begin to feel a small hairball of anxiety in your own throat and wonder where it came from. Don’t despair. This can be remedied by building your own mental blockade and reminding yourself of your core values. It can even help to tell yourself–out loud–that you are not an anxious person and that you won’t become one. This kind of self-affirmation can help to protect your mind and develop an immunity to infectious anxiety. See point six for more on this.

3. They may feel trapped in a maze.

Raising and discussing an anxious concern with you once or twice might not seem unreasonable, but if your loved one constantly wants to talk over the same kinds of worries, it can appear as though they are going mad. Often this happens because the sufferer feels as though they are trying to navigate a route out of a dangerous maze and they will not rest until every path has been explored. This is how a whole weekend can end up being consumed on a single topic. Keep in mind that they are trying to get out and don’t enjoy the repetition any more than you. If you both feel like you are working as a team you will resolve things far quicker.

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4. Anxious people are often very nice people.

There is no doubt this is one of the many reasons you love the anxious person in your life. Many anxious people are ruled by a constant dread of hurting others. Being around them may help make you more sensitive to others or delicate situations. Even when they have a bad day, it’s important to remember all their unique qualities (e.g. kindness, quirkiness, good organization, thoughtfulness, cleanliness). Remember that the reason you are helping them manage their anxiety is because they don’t want something bad to happen to those they care about. It still might drive you crazy but checking the root source will help you see it comes from a very good place.

5. Don’t give in to frustration.

Sometimes anxiety can seem to define your relationship, to the point where your own feelings and routines are transgressed. Even though you might be doing all you think you can, it can still feel like you are being controlled. This feeling of being overwritten by the other person can make them seem selfish. This may well be a veneer, with the opposite holding true beneath their surface. It is a frustrating feeling and understandably that frustration might boil over in some (usually unpleasant) way. This venting of frustration will more than likely cause your loved one’s anxiety to increase, thus kicking off a vicious cycle that doesn’t need any more help self perpetuating. You shouldn’t be expected to keep a lid on your feelings either, so it is important to establish clear and fair boundaries.

6. To establish boundaries remember your ABCs.

A – Ask yourself what anxious behaviors or manifestations you can reasonably cope with and which you absolutely can’t.
B – Bring your loved one into a peaceful safe place where you are able to chat. Explain how you feel and then draw your lines in the sand. You are not trying to control them or their anxiety. You are simply stating a few areas where you are unwilling to be told what to do. That is your right and, when done in a calm setting, most anxious people will respond well as it gives their anxiety some boundaries to work within.
C – Choose the moment for this process wisely. Doing it when anxiety is raging, or during an argument, will not produce the same effect. (Surprisingly!)

7. Try not to interpret their anxiousness as a personal accusation.

Your loved one may be carrying around hundreds of worries in their head. Inevitably some (perhaps most) will find voice. Many are about typical things that everyone worries about–paying the mortgage, managing debts, health concerns, appointments, family worries, even worries about their relationship with you. When they verbalize these concerns, you may feel like you are suddenly under attack.  You might hear, “You aren’t making enough money,” “You aren’t handling things well,” “You are irresponsible,” or some other unspeakable crime. Naturally the response when feeling attacked is to go on the defensive. There’s that super vicious cycle again. Very often, leveling accusations and apportioning blame is not the intent, so try to hear what’s really being said, and how it is being said.

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8. Express how you feel truthfully.

If confrontation is not how you handle feeling judged, another trap to avoid is retreating within and closing up, welling resentment up inside you. Those feelings can create a cold, detached distance between you, which can be more damaging for a relationship than the initial anxiety was. Don’t be afraid to say how these thoughts are affecting you. It can be hard, but the chances are your loved one really don’t realize how their words are making you feel. Be truthful. Always. Saying you are fine when you are not will only damage you both.

9. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Though they may be fragile at times, your loved one isn’t an idiot. Often the things they say will be valid observations or genuine concerns. The challenge is not making them feel that you don’t value what they say. They already know that they have a little of the “boy who cried wolf” in them. So when they say something of real concern and you disregard it (like you’ve had to with countless trivial concerns) they may feel crushed. It’s a tricky one, but try to look at their demeanor when they’re speaking–how do they seem? If another non-anxious person raised this with you, would you take them seriously? Are you not listening because you think it’s just anxiety or because you don’t like what you’re hearing? However you answer those questions, remember that open, honest,  calm communication is just what the doctor ordered.

10. If they are open to it, try to help them understand their own anxiety.

“Anxiety is the giant lid we use over the pot of emotions,” explains Fiona Watson, Mickel therapist. “When our anxiety gets worse it can often mean there are more unresolved emotions in our pot.”

It is not your job to be anyone’s therapist but if the moment presents itself some well thought out questions may help them. “When did this feeling start?” “Who/What/Where makes it heighten?” Someone taking an interest in the way their mind is working might just start them on the road to understanding the root of their problem.

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11. It’s not your job to fix them.

It’s not even possible for you to fix them! You can ask questions, be kind, love and support them, but ultimately this is a private battle they have with themselves. You are a cheerleader on the pitch. You cannot participate but you can certainly motivate. Their burdens are not yours to carry but be the best cheerleader you can be (they will adore you for it).

12. Deep breathing never fails.

If it’s all getting on top of you, remember to take some deep, long breaths (and encourage them to do the same). “Breathing in for 7 and out for 11 allows your nervous system to calm down,” says Laura McDonald, reflexologist. “If someone you love is really anxious, the best thing you can be in that moment is calm. Sensing your calmness will help them begin to relax.” So chill.

13. Try to have as much fun as possible.

It can feel like anxiety sucks all the life out of living. It can sometimes make spontaneity, travel, socializing, eating out, and other adventures very difficult and colorless. It is important that you not give in to those difficulties. You may have to adapt your plans and think outside the box, but the greatest gift you can give to the anxious person you love is to help them fight that blood-sucking anxiety. By giving them fun, happy memories to pepper the anxiety filled ones they naturally have, you can help them have more to aim for–more to hope for.

14. Your relationship can become ironclad.

If they do decide to get help fighting their anxiety, you will be a big part of their journey and that can only bring you closer.  Remember: a little anxiety can be beneficial, as it motivates us to make wise choices in life. Work together with those you love and those who love you to find the right balance.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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