How To Help A Family Member Or Friend With Anxiety Problems

How to help a family member or friend with anxiety problems

In 2019, around 301 million people in the world suffered from an anxiety disorder. The health crisis caused by COVID-19 and social networks have contributed to exacerbating this problem and recently an increase in anxiety levels has been observed in the general population. After the first year of the pandemic, the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide increased by more than 25%, according to statistics published by the WHO.

The close environment of people suffering from anxiety disorders often does not know how to help them. This often makes them feel frustrated and confused when trying to support or sustain their loved ones. It is recommended that family and friends around people who suffer from anxiety know what to do to provide appropriate support without overburdening the person.

In this article you will find several key ideas on what to do to help someone suffering from anxiety. This set of general guidelines includes providing support without putting too much pressure and a series of tips on what to avoid when supporting someone with anxiety.

What can we do to help someone with anxiety problems?

Anxiety always appears as a response to a situation that people suffer involuntarily and automatically. In many cases, this feeling causes more harm than good; It also makes people suffer and experience different sensations of discomfort.

Anxiety disorders are the most common class of mental illnesses in Western countries such as the United States, and affects 40 million adults over 18 years of age. Knowing the signs of this disease and knowing how to deal with them can help us recognize, as well as deal with, a close person who suffers from an anxiety problem.

Help with anxiety

Anxiety disorders require people to change habits and learn new ways of relating to anxiety and the events that cause its symptoms to appear. Many times, family and friends are essential in helping patients develop these new routines. Once adopted, these practices can help people with anxiety disorders gradually reduce anxiety symptoms and related problems.

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Below you will find a series of guidelines, grouped into 4 main categories, to support people suffering from anxiety problems; These tips range from the simplest actions to seeking external help in cases that require it.

1. Learn to recognize the signs of anxiety

Watching a loved one suffer frequent panic attacks and deal with daily anxiety can be extremely distressing. However, there are things that can be done to help. The first includes learning to recognize the signs of the problem and the frequent symptoms that a person with an anxiety problem faces, detecting the warning signs that are associated with a possible disorder: a phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, tendency to suffer panic attacks, etc.

People who suffer from anxiety problems often show noticeable changes in their behavior. These changes may derive from an immediate response to the anxiety problem or be the indirect consequence of hiding the problem, in the case, for example, that the person feels ashamed. Some examples of these behavioral alterations are: decreased interest in certain activities that were previously enjoyable, frequent mood swings, irritability and withdrawal, excuses and avoidance of specific situations. Other signs may include seeking safer conditions and expressing defensive attitudes such as suspicion and vigilance.

2. Search for information

Finding out what is happening is the first thing, to do this it is advisable to inform yourself and try to understand the situation. The information allows you to make sense of the problem and understand how you can really help. By increasing the level of understanding we can also make informed decisions. In the case of anxiety problems, information can be obtained from two main sources: the person involved and informative articles.

When someone suffers from an anxiety problem, it is important to actively listen to them to try to understand what is happening to them. This means paying attention to what they are experiencing without doubting their word, dismissing what they have to say, or passing judgment. If the patient has already visited a professional, It is useful to show interest in the evaluations or ideas that the specialist has suggested.

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It is also useful to consult specialized, in-depth articles when trying to understand anxiety. This type of information can be found in books, accredited websites or from specialized health professionals. These documents cover topics such as what anxiety is, symptoms, causes, types and possible treatments.

3. Put ourselves in a position to help without judging

Putting yourself in a position to help is a process similar to active listening; both relate to being a receptacle of the problem. This idea refers to someone’s ability to empathize, take the victim’s perspective, and offer help.

As we have seen, anxiety produces a whole series of unpleasant sensations. Although it is necessary to be able to talk, doing so too much can be counterproductive and help the manifestations persist. Instead, it is recommended to adopt an understanding attitude; This involves listening and being willing to do so, but only when the other needs it. This has more to do with availability and trust than with listening itself, is showing the other that we are here for whatever they need. Additionally, to put ourselves in a position to help we can:

3.1. Share concerns

Sharing worries and fears with others can provide a little relief. Although this is only temporary, it provides a break from stress. Being able to speak can mean a truce with discomfort: Although these concerns do not disappear, by involving others they can at least remain under some control.

3.2. Do not trivialize the situation

It is important to avoid trivializing or disqualifying the person with anxiety problems. Doing this will make them feel judged, ridiculed, and rejected. Instead, you should try to avoid fights, reprimands, and ironic comments; It’s about helping the person feel that we understand their problem and accept it.

3.3. Don’t blame the person

When a person is suffering, it is useless to blame them or try to make them take control of the situation. This only makes them feel helpless and more distressed; probably the same anxiety prevents them from implementing solutions or taking responsibility for the problem. Instead, It is better to accept the current situation and find ways to help that don’t involve blame or empty advice.

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3.4. Don’t worry too much

Relieving the patient’s anxiety must be done carefully; trying to do it in a dramatic way can increase the stress of the other. If the other person feels responsible for our discomfort, this would have a negative effect by increasing their anxiety levels instead of reducing them.

3.5. Objectify the situation

Help the person with anxiety to consider situations in a more realistic and accurate way. Anxiety tends to involve overvaluing threats and undervaluing resources. It is important for someone who faces anxiety to understand that she can find answers to her problems. Emphasizing this can help them develop realistic expectations about what their solution might look like. It is worth remembering that objectiveizing the situation means encouraging the person to face their fears rather than protecting them and confirming their unreasonable suspicions.

4. Seek external support from a professional

For some patients with anxiety, finding specialized help is an extra source of stress, and in this sense, relying on family, friends and loved ones in the search can reduce the stress on the original problem. The important thing is that, in situations of this type in which the person feels so anxious that it limits them on a daily basis, they end up going to therapy.

Likewise, if a person’s anxiety disorder worsens over time despite preventive measures, it may be helpful to encourage them to consult with a professional. In this sense, if you are looking for psychotherapeutic assistance services, I invite you to contact me.

My name is Paloma Rey, I am a General Health Psychologist, and I provide care in person and online by video call.