How to help someone with anxiety
Feelings of anxiety can be a perfectly normal reaction to uncertainties in life and most of us feel anxious at times. However, if you know someone who seems overly worried about situations that most people wouldn’t see as scary, is anxious over straightforward daily activities or tasks or seems very anxious over the safety of loved ones, this could be a sign that their anxiety levels have moved into a realm that is having a bigger impact on their life.
They may also be having physical signs of anxiety, such as panic attacks.
It can be really tough to see someone we care about trying to deal with anxiety, and it can be difficult to know how we can help them. However, there are several ways in which you can provide support to them, including:
Recognising the signs of anxiety
Anxiety can affect different people in different ways, but there are some common signs and symptoms that people can experience one or more of when feeling anxious. These include, but are not limited to:
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Feeling restless, wound-up, irritable or on edge
- Feeling a tightness in muscles
- Having a dry mouth
- Chest pains
- Having trouble catching breath
- Feeling sick or having a stomach ache
- Sweating more than usual
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling panicky and feeling something bad is going to happen
- Having difficulty focusing on anything not related to the anxious thoughts
- Having problems with sleep
Being able to recognise that someone you care about is struggling with anxiety, especially in its early stages, can help you provide the best possible support to your loved one to help them through what can be a very challenging time.
Listen when they talk about their anxiety
It sounds simple, but providing a calm listening ear when someone you love is telling you about their anxiety is really important.
Their thoughts and feelings, as well as any physical symptoms, are very real and knowing that someone is interested in what they are going through and wants to support them can be really beneficial in itself.
If you want to approach a loved one about their anxiety so that you can talk to them about it, it’s important to do this in a calm and non-judgemental way. Tell them that you want them to know they can come to you if they are feeling anxious and you want to be there for them.
Learn about what can help with anxiety
There are many different approaches that can help with anxiety, depending on the individual involved, and you can help your loved one by learning about these and offering suggestions if they ask for your support with it. This will also mean you’re ideally placed to help them with their plan of action which we cover late.
- Some of the things that many people with anxiety find can be helpful include:
- Regular physical activity/exercise
- Breathing exercises
- Mindfulness meditation
- Establishing good sleep habits
- Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake
- Focusing on elements of life they can control rather than the negative thoughts
- Giving anxious thoughts a set time each day to run free, then turning them away at other times
Help them with their plan for dealing with anxiety
It’s likely that the person with anxiety already has some ideas about how they can start dealing with it, but you can act as a sounding board for their plan and can help them put it into action.
It might be that their anxiety is stopping them from doing normal daily activities and they may need professional help. It might be that they would like someone to help them speak to their doctor about it, or they might be feeling so anxious that they can’t currently make a plan themselves.
Whatever the situation, you can help by suggesting potential steps they might consider taking next, as well as practically helping them to get to appointments, follow certain exercises or achieve specific goals.
Looking after yourself
You can only be the best version of yourself and offer support to others in a way that doesn’t negatively impact on you when you also focus on your own wellbeing, physically, mentally and emotionally.
You need to look after yourself too – so you may need to set some limits on the help that you can give at times. You may want to speak to a mental health professional for advice on this and supporting your loved one.
Asking for help if/when needed
Providing support for someone in your life who is struggling with anxiety can be a real challenge, especially if you are the main or only person providing assistance to them. Knowing when to encourage them to seek professional help is important.
You can offer practical support by finding the details of specialists and talk to your loved one about them speaking to their doctor or a mental health professional.
There are plenty of online and other resources available to you and your loved one in dealing with anxiety, including:
- Visiting the CALM website or call 0800 58 58 58
- Visiting the Mind website or calling their information line on 0300 123 3393
- Calling Samaritans on 116 123 (UK-wide)
- Texting SHOUT to 85258 (UK-wide)
- Calling C.A.L.L. on 0800 132 737 (Wales only)
- You can find details of more helplines and support available here.