Anxiety can be debilitating, and supporting a loved one who’s living with anxiety can be really difficult. There are times when you might feel really helpless – it can be difficult to know what to do and how to help.
1. Check In
It can be difficult to reach out when we are living with anxiety. We can tie ourselves in knots worrying about what people might do or say, and whether or not we’re a burden on them. Checking in with us can stop us from having to worry about being the one to make contact ‘first’. This could be via a text, phone call, or message. It gives us an opening to tell you if we’re struggling. Answering a simple ‘are you okay?’ can be an awful lot easier for us than trying to tell you that we’re not okay completely out of the blue.
2. Learn About It
It can be really difficult for us to describe our anxiety. Often we don’t know where to start. Learning about the symptoms of anxiety, how to help someone experiencing a panic attack, the difference between nervousness and anxiety, and anything else you’re not sure about, can give you some background to our illness. This means that we don’t have to start from scratch when trying to explain things to you.
Having an understanding of our illness and how it affects us might give you some more ideas of how to support us in ways that are perhaps a little more unique to us.
3. Accompany Us
Anxiety can make it very difficult to leave the house or to be sociable. There might be a class or regular event that we used to go to but have stopped attending because we feel too anxious. Perhaps there’s a group of friends who we used to meet up with on a regular basis but haven’t seen in months or years due to our anxiety. Maybe there’s something new that we’ve been wanting to try for ages, but our anxiety has stopped us from feeling able to give it a go.
Accompanying us to things can help us to go to them. The more we go to these things, the more our anxiety around them should reduce. Eventually, we might not need you to accompany us anymore. Helping us to get out, and to go to different things, can not only help us to leave the house, but can also stop us from feeling so isolated, and remind us that we are so much more than our anxiety.
4. Celebrate Little Victories
When we are living with anxiety, it can important to recognise the achievement of doing something outside of our comfort zone. This could include things like leaving the house or meeting a friend for coffee. Though other people might do these things without giving them a second thought, for us they can be a massive challenge, and doing them is a huge achievement. It’s important to recognise these little victories because they can help to show us that we’re making progress. We don’t need you to arrive at our house with a congratulations card every time we do something difficult, but quiet recognition can show us that you realise how hard we’re trying, it can help to boost our confidence, and it shows us that you’re walking alongside us, and we’re not facing anxiety alone.
5. Offer To Help Us With Practical Things
Sometimes we don’t want to talk, but there might be some practical things that we would appreciate a hand with. This could include things like picking up prescriptions, driving us to appointments, or helping us to tick some things off our never-ending to-do list. All of these things can be helpful because they can give us one less thing to worry about.
6. Encourage Self-Care
When we’re living with anxiety, our basic self-care often slips. Self-care can give us a strong foundation to build on. Depending on your relationship to us, you could do things like help us to clean the house, prompt us to shower (if you don’t feel able to do this outright, you could bring round some nice smelling bath goodies), help us to write a shopping list, bring round some meals that we can stick in the freezer, or help us to clear a pile of post that’s stacked up. You could invite us out to a park or for coffee – something like that would encourage us to get up, dressed, and leave the house. The sorts of things that we might find helpful, and that you feel able to help us with, will depend on your relationship to us and on our own individual needs.
7. Ask Us What We Need
We’re all individuals, so we’ll all find different things helpful. Talk to us about what support we might need and the sorts of things that might help us. We might have absolutely no idea what we need, but we could also have some ideas and just not feel able to talk to you about them until you ask us.
8. Don’t Just Focus On Our Anxiety
We are more than our anxiety, but that can be really difficult to see when we’re stuck in the middle of it. Anxiety can be all-consuming, and it can reach the point where we forget that we’re more than ‘a person with anxiety’. As much as it can be helpful to talk to us about our anxiety, and to support us with it, it’s also important to talk to us about other things. You know us as a whole person with likes, dislikes, and personality. Talk to us about that, remind us that we are a person beyond our anxiety.
9. Encourage Us To Reach Out For Support When We Need It
Everyone needs support sometimes. This support could be from friends, family, or professionals. There are times when we might need more support than we’re currently getting. Anxiety can make it really difficult to reach out for that support. It can become a vicious circle – the more anxious we feel, the more support we need, the more support we need, the more anxious we feel about reaching out for it, and so on.
Sometimes we need some encouragement to go to the GP, or to ask for some more help. There are times when we don’t know what support we need, or what is available to us. Anxiety can make it difficult to research the support that’s available to us, so you could also help us with that research.
10. Be Honest
Know your limits and be honest with us. Tell us if you can’t help or support us with something. Talk to us if you can’t support us for a period of time. We totally understand that life happens and that there will be times when you can’t support us. Rather than running yourself into the ground, or cancelling and letting us down at the last minute, try to be honest with us about what you can and can’t support us with.
11. Look After Yourself
We don’t want you to run yourself into the ground trying to support us. It’s really important to us that you look after yourself first and foremost. Supporting someone who is living with anxiety can be really difficult, make sure that you take time for yourself, and that you’re okay, too.
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