Before we get started, please note that every person is different and therefore has unique needs. Some people like to talk things through, while others prefer to keep things to themselves. This list doesn’t provide a foolproof set of rules. It is simply a guide. When helping someone with anxiety the most important thing is to carefully listen to the individual and adjust your behaviour based on their individual needs.
So here is our list of the do's and don'ts of supporting someone with anxiety:
DO let the person know that they can talk to you about their concerns openly, without any fear of judgment. It's important that they know they have you to call on, and that you aren't going to change the way you think/feel about them based on the things they say - even if they repeat the same fears over and over again (which is incredibly common).
DON'T get frustrated. Those with anxiety know that their fears shouldn't bother them, but as hard as they try they can't stop feeling anxious, fearful or worried. Expecting them to use logic to control their anxiety is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
DO spend time with them as much as possible. Simply being there for them is a bigger help than you realise. In fact, they may not realise it either. Spending time with others brings joy and helps them momentarily forget about their anxieties.
DON'T bring up the anxiety if the person is prone to panic attacks. This is a tricky one - while you want to be there to talk about their worries or concerns, sometimes bringing up their fears can trigger a panic attack. Therefore, it’s sometimes best to let them bring it up with you.
DO tell them to call you anytime, anywhere. Talking on the phone and knowing someone is there to pick up can actually be incredibly comforting to someone that is trying to manage their anxiety. Anxiety can make people feel lost and alone. Knowing that someone is only a phone call away can reduces that feeling.
DON'T let anxiety affect you as well. Make sure that you are managing your own stress and anxiety because the way you feel can affect the way others feel too.
DO be forgiving. Anxiety can make people irritable, and can cause them to have less awareness over their words or actions. Try your best to be forgiving. Let them know that you understand and that you’re going to stick around regardless.
DON'T expect massive, immediate turnarounds. Unfortunately, managing anxiety does take time. Those that try to cure it too fast often find they have setbacks that are sometimes worse than the initial anxiety symptoms. Understand that recovering from anxiety can take time.
DO exciting activities with that person. Try to get them outdoors and staying active. Exercise can significantly reduce anxiety. Find things to do that don't involve alcohol (since alcohol can slow recovery). Creating new memories can help people cope with some of the stresses of life, so get busy doing things!
DON'T push them too hard. It can be difficult, but you need to remember that people with anxiety often struggle to get out of their own head. They want to relate to you, talk to you, and be friendly, but they may have an incredibly hard time dealing with symptoms they can't control. If you see that they’re in a bubble and you push too hard for their attention they may withdraw further.
DO show you’re proud of them when they improve. They'll be able to see it on your face. It’s important that you highlight your positive emotions and pride as they begin to recover, whilst avoiding showing frustration during setbacks. It can be difficult at times, but is incredibly valuable!
DON'T give up hope. Anxiety is a treatable condition. The person in your life isn't going to always feel or believe that recovery is possible, and there are going to be times when even you think it might continue forever, but anxiety is one of the most treatable of all mental health conditions of all.
DO be yourself. You don't need to change who you are, and the person with anxiety doesn't want you to change either. The fact that you're looking for what you can do to help this person proves that you're a good influence in their life. Be vulnerable when needed, have fun when needed, and be yourself.
Dealing with anxiety is an uphill battle, and it takes its toll on those around them. Anxiety can strain relationships and may cause significant stress on a loved one. Sometimes those offering support find that they start developing anxieties of their own. So don't forget to take care of you.
Having a supportive friend can be an enormous help for someone suffering from anxiety. Hopefully, the above tips provide you with some guidance on how best to help your loved one in their recovery from anxiety and bring you both closer.
Much love to you all,