Do’s and Don’ts for Family and Friends:
Dealing with anxiety is an uphill battle, and it does take a toll on others around those dealing with it. Anxiety can strain relationships, and may even cause significant stress on a loved one. Noting that every person is different, and each person has different needs, here are some general do’s and don’ts for family and friends:
… let this person know that they can talk to you about it openly, without any fear of judgment.
It’s very important that they know that you’re there to lend them an ear, and that you aren’t going to judge them or change the way you think/feel about them based on anything they say – even if they say the same fear over and over and over and over again (because for many, the fears and thoughts are nearly exactly the same each time).
… spend time with them as much as possible.
You being around them is a bigger help than you realize. In fact, they may not realize it either. But time spend with others is time that makes it harder to think about their anxieties, and that time really does make a difference.
… tell them to call you anytime, anywhere.
Talking on the phone and knowing someone is there to pick up can actually be incredibly comforting to someone that is trying to control their anxiety. Anxiety can make people feel lost and alone. Knowing that someone is a phone call away reduces that feeling.
… be forgiving.
We keep emphasizing that anxiety can change neurochemistry for a reason. Anxiety can make people more quick to irritation. It’s not in the control of the person with anxiety. Ideally, try your best to be forgiving. Let them know that you understand, and that even if it’s not fair you’re not going to quit the friendship because of it.
… exciting activities.
Try to be outdoors. Find things to do that don’t involve alcohol (since alcohol can cause setbacks in anxiety treatments). Stay active. Exercise itself is a known remedy for anxiety, and creating new memories can help people cope with some of the stresses of life. So try your best to get out and do things together.
… be proud of them when they improve.
They’ll be able to see it on your face. Remember that anxiety changes thought patterns and can make people think and feel much more negative, which unfortunately means that many of them are going to interpret your facial expressions negatively, assuming you’re annoyed with them or ashamed of them. Thus making sure to highlight your positive emotions and your pride – and actually being happy when you see recovery while avoiding feeling frustrated during setbacks – can be very valuable.
… be yourself.
You don’t need to change who you are, and the person with anxiety doesn’t want you to change either. You are close for a reason. Be yourself. The fact that you’re looking for what you can do to help this person with anxiety proves that you’re a good influence in their life. Be positive, have fun, and be the person that your friends or family member loves.
… get frustrated.
Remember, anxiety disorders are not just thought related – they’re chemical as well. Those with anxiety really do know that their fears shouldn’t bother them, but as hard as they try they can’t stop, and expecting them to use logic to control their anxiety is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
… bring up the anxiety often.
While you want to be there to talk about it, there are some anxieties, like panic attacks, that can be triggered by thinking about it. In other words, if you ask someone “how are your panic attacks?” you may accidentally be causing them to think about their panic attacks when they hadn’t been previously, which could actually trigger an attack. Let them bring it up to you.
… let anxiety affect you as well.
Make sure that you are working on your own stress and anxiety, because the way you feel can have an effect on the way others feel, especially as you spend more and more time again. If you’re dealing with anxiety yourself, the other person is going to deal with more anxiety as well. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more.
… expect massive, immediate turnarounds.
Unfortunately, controlling anxiety does take time. Those that try to cure it too fast often find they have setbacks that are sometimes worse than the initial anxiety. It’s very important that you understand that curing anxiety can take a lot of time, and even on the way there, there are going to be issues that come up and fears that they’re going to have. It’s natural.
… guilt trip.
It can be hard, but you have to remember that those with anxiety often struggle to get out of their own head. They want to relate to you, talk to you, and be friendly, but they have an incredibly hard time dealing with the thoughts they can’t control. They take over their mind and their memories. If you guilt trip to try to get more attention or get them out of their bubble, they may withdraw further.
… give up hope.
Anxiety is a treatable condition. The person in your life isn’t going to always feel or believe it’s treatable, and there are going to be times when even you think it might keep going forever, but the reality is that anxiety is perhaps one of the most treatable conditions available today.