If your loved one struggles with anxiety, it can be difficult to know how to help. Anxiety can be hard to understand, especially if the person does not fully comprehend it yet. A person may not even know that they have anxiety and having the conversation without a clear starting point can make it challenging to offer help.

Anxiety disorders are incredibly common and while symptoms may vary from person to person, there are some symptoms are that often universally experienced. These include:

  • Light headedness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent worrying
  • All-or-nothing mindset
  • Believing the worst will happen
  • Avoidance
  • Seeking constant reassurance
  • Compulsive actions
  • Second-guessing

A common misstep in helping someone with anxiety is enabling it. Enabling can occur without you even realizing it. While it can seem like a nice gesture to modify behaviors and environments to help a person avoid feeling anxious, it only allows it to flourish. Anxiety does not go away because it is avoided. If anything, avoiding what makes a person anxious can actually worsen it with time. Rather than learning to overcome their fears, a person will simply become more limited by them.

Tips for Helping Someone with Anxiety

Helping someone with anxiety is easier if you have a basic understanding about how it works. Educating yourself about the nature of anxiety, recognizing the signs, and learning coping mechanisms can aid you in helping your loved one. When talking about anxiety, it is important to not minimize or trivialize the experiences of the person. Even if you do not understand their fears or anxiety, it does not make them any less real. Instead, provide validation and support. Express concern for their wellbeing and open up the conversation in a nonjudgmental way.

Some ways you can better help your loved one with anxiety include:

  1. Understanding there are multiple types of anxiety: Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways with different triggers, emotional responses, and thoughts all working together to cause it. Generalized anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are some of the many ways anxiety can manifest. If you know what type of anxiety your loved one struggles with, it can be easier to research the most effective ways to help.
  2. Addressing avoidant behaviors: Anxiety is often accompanied by avoidant behaviors. A person with anxiety will often take steps to avoid any activities or interactions that trigger it. While it may feel like the right action to take in the moment, it can actually cause anxiety to build and worsen over time. Helping a person talk about what they avoid and why can help them begin to develop a plan to address it.
  3. Open communication: Mental health is still highly stigmatized despite efforts to change conversations about it. Those with anxiety may struggle with fear or embarrassment about it which can make symptoms of it worse. Normalizing mental health and creating open lines of communication can help a person cope with it. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time whether or not they have a disorder. Anxiety is not a flaw or a weakness. Allowing a person to express their anxiety without judgement can make a significant impact on their ability to address it.
  4. Prevent enabling behaviors: One of the most common aspects of anxiety is seeking reassurance. While it is normal to want reassurance from loved ones, in relation to anxiety, a need for constant reassurance is a symptom of the condition. By engaging in these repeated conversations, it can allow anxiety to grow and flourish. Like other symptoms, the need for constant reassurance can be addressed adequately with help. If patterns begin to develop over time, it is important to be open in discussing them with your loved one.
  5. Help them find professional treatment: Anxiety is not always something a person can manage on their own. While you can take steps to provide support for them, the help of a professional can be the most impactful. Anxiety can make it difficult to reach out and open up to a therapist, but it is important in helping them manage symptoms effectively. A therapist can provide them with insight and treatment specific to their unique needs. You can continue to provide support by encouraging them and helping them work on goals outlined by their therapist.

There are a variety of ways you can help a loved one with anxiety. Everyone is different and not every approach will work as effectively as others. Even if you do not always get it right, being available and present is important. Above all else, know when it is time to seek the help of a professional. The best thing you can do for your loved one is show support without judgement and help them access professional treatment if needed.

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