Tips on Helping a Loved One Through Anxiety

Lisa Martens

Photo by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash

In 2020, we have heard a lot regarding mental health and anxiety. Some might be wondering: How do I help someone suffering from anxiety? How much help is too much help? What if I am giving too much? Here are some tips on helping a loved one through anxiety:

1. Listen instead of belittling feelings

You cannot tell someone with anxiety that they're being irrational or unreasonable. They may stop complaining to you, but their feelings won't change.

Just like telling someone to calm down doesn't work, telling someone not to be anxious won't work, either. You cannot argue with a feeling. It's a feeling!

The best thing is: Feelings pass. Listen to the person who has anxiety and ask them to explain why they're feeling what they're feeling. Most of the time, discussing it and laying it out will help. An anxiety attack may only last for a few minutes, so bearing with the person and talking them through will actually make them feel better, while belittling their emotions will make them feel much worse...about themselves, and about you.

When dealing with feelings of extreme anxiety, trying to tell someone they are not being "rational" is a poor way to handle a situation that may worsen the attack.

Positive methods include walking, questioning the feeling of anxiety, and deep, calm breaths. Remind the person having the anxiety that they have options and decisions they can make. Accept their feelings as they are, and recognize that they can change over time, just not because you want them to.

2. Ask questions instead of pushing

It may be clear to you what the correct answer is, but you'll get further asking questions than by pushing your own views. Most people believe what they want to believe, and if they come to a conclusion on their own, they'll be more likely to accept it than if they feel you're forcing it upon them.

If you know someone with anxiety who constantly believes they have COVID, even if they didn't leave the house, you can ask questions. How do you think you got it? Could your symptoms be anything else? Is there any other explanation for the symptoms you have? Would you like to go to a doctor and get a test?

Make sure the person you're talking to feels empowered to make decisions...real decisions...instead of stressing and ruminating. Questioning their negative thought patterns is a great first step that you could potentially help with.

3. Find support from another source

Someone with anxiety will feel guilty if they feel they are placing a burden on you, and then they will be less likely to open up to you. This will increase their anxiety.

However, your feelings are also valid—It can be difficult to deal with someone who is constantly anxious.

Their feelings and your feelings are valid. They shouldn't have to diminish how they feel for you, and you shouldn't have to diminish your feelings for them. It might be helpful to be a part of a support group, or to find an online community for other people who are supporting someone with anxiety issues.

Feeling validated through people who are going through what you are going through is very powerful, and it's very normal to want that kind of connection.

Art, writing, and a hobby can be another way to decompress and let go of anger and frustration. Remember that you love this person, and allowing resentment to build will chip at the love. At the same time, someone with anxiety will only see you as a source of more anxiety if you begin to lash out due to resentment.

4. Establish clear boundaries and stick to them

A person with anxiety may not understand when they are overstepping boundaries. It's important to set up a clear boundary. Maybe 5-6 PM is time you have all to yourself, for example.

As annoying as it might sound to you, an anxious person might test out your testing a fence. You have to stay firm in your boundaries otherwise you will not be able to be in a long relationship with this person.

Anxiety is not a reason for you to just do whatever the other person wants. Part of healing is learning to manage the feeling, not let it take over. If a person's anxieties take over and it causes them to treat you poorly, then they need help with boundaries that maybe you cannot provide. A therapist can help with these issues, for example.

However, be sure you're not in a situation where you're constantly giving in because you feel bad...this is enabling.

5. Respect their boundaries as well, even if you feel the rules are "silly"

If you agree to something someone with anxiety says, and then you go against your agreement, you've made a huge error. People with anxiety can be extremely sensitive to renegging, and the trust may be damaged. You've now confirmed to that person that you cannot be trusted.

Even if it's a small situation what you think is "silly", it's not silly to a person with anxiety. They're always on the lookout for clues that a person is untrustworthy or that a situation is precarious.

Always be honest. If they have a rule you find ridiculous, tell them you won't be following it and why. Do not pretend like you're going to follow it, and then go back on your word.

Even if the person is angry at you for not indulging their anxiety, in the long run, being upfront and honest and doing what you said you would do is far more beneficial than lying to someone with anxiety.

While you might think you're doing them a favor, you're not. If someone is surrounding themselves with nonsensical rules, it's important for those rules to be challenged in a gentle and honest way.

Remember, if a person with anxiety stops trusting you, it can be very hard to reestablish.

6. Be willing to apologize and to hear apologies

It's not easy to navigate through a situation of this kind. A person with anxiety might have to literally learn how to process their feelings, set up boundaries, and even practice thinking in a way that is not easy for them. They may have been raised by anxious people themselves, and so they never learned skills that you learned.

They need help and patience. On the other side, it can be tiring and frustrating to try to talk someone down from their anxiety, especially if you feel it's holding the relationship back.

It's definitely hard work with a lot of pay off in the end...just be prepared to be vulnerable, to make mistakes, and to apologize and listen to apologies (as long as they are backed up with actions and changed behavior).

In the end, we're all in this together.

When someone we love is suffering in this way, we want to help them feel better. Right now, the entire world is enduring something difficult, and it can take a mental toll. When we remember to be patient with ourselves and others, we can have a lasting positive impact.

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