How to help friends and family with anxiety
Anxiety and related conditions are often the sub-conscious being hyper-vigilant to any perceived threats in the environment.
It’s important to recognise the person suffering anxiety can often feel like they are in two parts, the rational part who is able to see a situation logically and the anxious part of them which is giving them often extreme physical sensations and negative thoughts. This part can often feel overwhelming and causing them to feel ‘out of control’ and unable to cope. In some cases coping mechanisms can develop that are unhelpful such as using up anxious energy with ticks, nail biting or developing phobias.
Anxiety is actually a protective mechanism of the mind which is more common in periods when we feel particularly vulnerable. Vulnerable times can include events that have come as a shock such as grief, redundancy, relationship breakdown or difficulties, accidents and ill health.
During these times we are more sensitive to life’s pitfalls and as a solution, the subconscious attempts to be helpful by bringing to our attention things that may upset us as a sort of ‘threat-detection’ mechanism. For many , this threat detection includes thoughts of worry, catastrophising the worse-case-scenario and mind reading tendencies.
Here are some top tips to help the anxious person in your life…
1. Provide a safe space to talk and just ‘be’
We all feel better when we know we are safe. Let the anxious person know you are there for them to speak to in their own time and their own way. When they do speak, listen non-judgementally to what they have to say without offering solutions unless the person asks. Quite often just by talking through the anxiety out loud the person can come to their own understandings and just the space to talk openly is enough.
If you live with an anxious person, making a space that is peaceful and comforting can really help. A tidy home can offer a sense of clarity whilst welcoming and functional decor can offer peace of mind. Small home comforts go a long way in helping humans to feel secure and cared for in times of distress.
2. Create a positive space
Anxious people often suffer from being run-down as their bodies struggle to process stress chemicals. Any negativity, even small things like complaining about something on tv can cause a stress reaction and pump excess stress chemicals into the system.
Simple changes like talking more positively about your life and bringing attention to small things to be grateful for can make a big difference. It gives the body chance to recuperate and can help the person pick up positive thinking habits the more they spend time with you.
If there are negative issues that need to be discussed enter into conversations with constructive advice and helpful ideas for how to make things better.
Give this time though and don’t expect a change overnight.
3. Start Small
Anxiety generally makes our comfort zones smaller and some days just going out and to the shop feel like a big ask. It’s important to edge the comfort zone out bit by bit so allow the person to take small steps and grow back into confidence gradually. Use their own ideas for what feels like a challenge they can cope with. A small action for you may feel like moving a mountain to somebody in an anxious phase so be supportive of whatever they suggest as the next stepping stone.
4. Allow the person to find their own way if they choose to
Sometimes we want to help our loved ones so much that we can cause further stress by getting too involved in helping, advising and taking action. Something as simple as a hug or some kind words can be enough to show we care as many people with anxiety ultimatately find their own ways of managing it. Anxiety sufferers commonly worry about being a burden to their loved ones so offer compassion and invite them to come to you when they choose.
If you’re feeling like the anxious person in your life doesn’t want to connect, it can be useful to know that well behaved animals are a brilliant help to anxious people improving dopamine levels that combat stress. Pets and time spent around animals and nature can be hugely restorative and provide an excellent method of support when words aren’t helping.
5. Help the person gather resources to ride the storm
People with acute anxiety will tell you that although unpleasant, anxious feelings will only get a certain level before they plateau and then pass. Often people with anxiety are afraid of what will happen if it gets worse but it’s important to remember anxiety is a protective mechanism and is harmless. It can be helpful to allow the feeling to be there and run it’s course rather than fighting it.
Useful advice to sufferes can be to breathe, use a pattern interrupt technique such as EFT, imagine the thoughts being vacuumed away and even imagine being in a pleasant place until the feeling passes.
Guided meditations are useful for this, encourage the person to use apps such as Headspace or help them to find some meditations they like on YouTube or the internet.
Meditation benefits everyone so it could also be something you do together!
If you or a loved one if suffering with anxiety, hypnotherapy can help. As a therapist specialising in anxiety relief, I help people understand their own mental health to begin to feel in control of their emotions and responses. Get in touch with me for more or explore the website by visiting the home page.