Learning how to help someone with anxiety can make all the difference. Support from family, friends, coursemates, or colleagues can bring a sense of ease to someone with anxiety. Yet, it can be hard to know what to say or do to help with their condition. The type and amount of help you can give will depend on the individual and your relationship with them. In this blog, we’ll walk you through how to help someone with anxiety using a few simple tips.
3 Ways to Understand Anxiety
Learn about Anxiety
It’s normal to have your own ideas and perception of anxiety. You might have experienced anxiety before a presentation or interview. However, living with an anxiety disorder is a complex experience, that is quite different from everyday anxieties. It can help to learn more about anxiety as a condition from videos or blogs, like this one!
This knowledge will make it easier for you to help while remaining patient. It’s important to not expect big turnarounds in their mental health, yet still, be happy and proud when they make progress. You’ll be better able to appreciate their highs and lows if you understand what living with an anxiety disorder entails.
Engage in Active Listening
You can also learn about anxiety from the person who is living through it. Their experiences and worries can help you understand their unique experience of living with an anxiety disorder. You can use active listening to truly hear and understand what they’re going through. Active listening allows you to focus on being present and patient while seeking to understand rather than respond.
To respond without offering solutions or advice, you can use open-ended questions, like ‘What’s troubling you lately?’ or ‘Would you like to talk about..?’. This can be a gentle prompt to get the conversation going. You can also paraphrase and reflect their own words back to them. This shows you’ve been listening to understand their experience. Active listening encourages responses like this to make the other person feel valued and heard and allows you to engage positively with the conversation.
Ask How to Help
Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is simply ask. This will depend on your relationship with the person and how close you are. But, if you think this would a good conversation to have, it can be beneficial for you both. You can understand their comforts, how to help with an anxiety attack, or when to tag along for support. If they’re not sure what they need, you can learn together as they navigate their journey with anxiety.
4 Tips to Help Someone with Anxiety
Provide a Safe Space
For someone living with anxiety, it can be easy to feel lonely, misunderstood, and like no one else feels the same way. You can help by providing a safe, non-judgemental space where they can talk openly about their feelings. Often, the way anxiety affects the mind and body can be confusing and frustrating. It can make all the difference to have someone who validates you and hears your concerns with an open mind.
It can take time to build that relationship, or for the person to open up. You can let them know that you’re there to listen and they don’t need to worry about being judged or perceived differently. It’s important to give them space and let them talk to you when they’re ready. But, don’t feel discouraged if this takes time, simply knowing someone has opened that door for them is more meaningful than you might think.
Use Reassuring Responses
It can be hard to know what to say when someone opens up to you. Phrases like ‘calm down’ or ‘don’t worry’ can be easy first choices but these aren’t the most comforting responses. Instead, you can validate and reassure someone with anxiety with responses like:
- I’m here for you
- It’s okay that you’re not okay right now
- You’re not a burden
- I love you and that’s why I’m here
- It’s okay to feel this way – take your time
You might know more responses like this that will help your loved ones. These simple responses can help them to feel cared for, to know they’re not a burden, and that it’s okay to be having a difficult time. Living with anxiety can cause feelings of guilt or shame, that’s why such responses can be so powerful.
Treat Them Normally
It’s great to be mindful and well-equipped to provide help to someone with anxiety. Yet, don’t forget to be yourself, and treat them as you would normally. Living with anxiety can feel all-consuming and isolating. It can help to have friends and family still include you and treat you like everyone else. Check up on them, ask if they want to hang out, and tell them about your life too. This can help them to feel like a valued person who is a source of happiness for their loved ones.
Spend Time Together
Spending time with loved ones can help someone with anxiety to think less and feel cared for. You could take walks together, relax in a park, and do some kind of physical activity. Getting out in nature and light exercise is good for general well-being and mental health. It’s easy to neglect these simple yet valuable activities when juggling a condition like anxiety.
You can also do things that are creative or engaging, like colouring, drawing, painting and even cooking. These activities encourage mindfulness and can be a fun thing to do together. Alternatively, you can do something more relaxing, like a movie night, spa day, or games night. The simple act of doing things together or being close by can be nice and reassuring for someone with anxiety.
Encourage Extra Support
Remind them that they deserve professional support to navigate the complexities of their condition. You can be a helping hand by encouraging a GP appointment. If they’re in therapy, you can check-in and ask how it went or go with them if that’s something they find helpful. You can also remind them to use self-help techniques and things they learnt in therapy when they’re struggling.
Students with a diagnosed mental health condition, like an anxiety disorder, can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance to get funding for equipment and learning support during their studies. Jamworks, an assistive note taking and lecture recording tool, is one example of the kind of support DSA can offer. This type of additional support can make achieving academic goals easier and reduce the stress of juggling education alongside mental health.