How You Can Help Someone with Anxiety

April 29, 2022

Everyone has anxiety! It’s a normal emotion that is a part of all of our lives. It keeps us safe from danger in the same way a prehistoric human moved with caution when venturing out and then quickly shifted into action at the sight of a saber-toothed cat.

Today, what we perceive as danger is different — an uncomfortable conversation,disappointing a boss, or driving on a highway — but the same high-impact physical responses and emotions occur.

Many people can recover from feelings of anxiety quickly, but others may have trouble escaping these feelings, even when the event has passed. In addition, a person may have strong feelings of panic or dread in anticipation of a future event. In these situations, anxiety can interfere with a person’s ability to interact with everyday life events. Mental health professionals refer to this as "generalized anxiety" or an anxiety disorder.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Anxiety can cause your hands to shake or sweat, your heart to race, pain in your chest or muscles, and stomach pain, just to name a few physical effects.

The emotions of anxiety can intensify to include spiraling negative and fearful thoughts,feelings of pressure and stress, and a sense of being overwhelmed. Some people may cry, while others describe what they experience as feeling like they are going to die. We can assure you that they are not alone in their experiences.

Everyone worries and gets the jitters, but if your loved one’s fears become overwhelming and their emotions start becoming unmanageable or debilitating, a healthcare provider who specializes in mental health can provide support. There are ways you can help, too.

How Can You Tell If a Friend or Loved One Has Anxiety?

Observe them to see if they are experiencing any of the symptoms above, and also pay attention to their behaviors.

  • Do they avoid activities they used to like, such as driving, being in crowds, going to work or school, or spending time around other people?
  • Do they talk about the same fears over and over?
  • Are they having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly?
  • Are they consumed by what bad things "might" happen?
  • Have they lost their appetite?
  • Do they suffer from headaches?

Anxiety is different for everyone, but these are a few potential signs.

How Can You Help Them?

Create a supportive environment

Anxiety isn’t a feeling your loved one can just "get over", nor is it an excuse for getting out of doing something. Acknowledge what they are going through and tell them that you care for them.

"Anxiety isn’t a feeling your loved one can just 'get over', nor is it an excuse for getting out of doing something. Acknowledge what they are going through and tell them that you care for them."

Open a Conversation

Wait until a time when your loved one is relaxed and not facing an active fear. Ask them a few questions without judgment to both express your care and that you are present with them in their anxiety. Phrase the questions from your perspective.

  • "I see that you’re feeling stressed and worried more often. Do you want to talk about it?"
  • "It’s tough going through life feeling so overwhelmed. Is there anything I can do to help?"
  • "It makes me sad to see you struggling. Would you like me to look into finding a professional who can help you manage the anxiety you’re feeling?"

Help Them Interrupt Negative Thoughts

Encourage your loved one to engage in one of the following activities when their anxiety is feeling overwhelming.

  • Deep breathing is scientifically proven to create a sense of calm. Several deep breaths can be very effective for slowing down spiraling thoughts and bringing the body back to a normal physical state.
  • A visualization such as putting each worry on a leaf and watching it glide away down a stream will allow your loved one to focus on just one worry at a time and not feel as overwhelmed.
  • Ask your loved one to replace a negative thought with a realistic thought. Replace "If I fail this test, I’ll never get into college," with "I am prepared for this test and I have passed other tests before when I prepared." Ask your loved one to share a positive, realistic thought as well. "If I do well on this test, it will help me get a good grade in the class," versus "Getting a good grade on this one test will get me into Harvard."

Help Them Change Their Perspective

Anxiety often comes from not being able to let go of an emotion or thought. Ask your loved one to write down what they are afraid of. Could it really happen? And if it happened, what would be the worst thing about it? By writing these thoughts down, a person can separate themselves from the emotion by looking at situations more analytically. They can also "leave the thoughts on the page" and not carry them around.

While there are many ways to help your loved one, never feel like you have to have all the answers in helping them work through their anxiety. If you see anxiety getting in the way of how they want to live their lives or how they are functioning day-to-day, contact a mental health professional who can create an action plan.

What Is the Process for Diagnosis and Treatment?

At Bloom Health Centers, we start with an initial appointment. Along with standard evaluations for diagnosing anxiety. We take the time to learn about your loved one and understand all of the factors in their life that could be contributing to anxiety. Ultimately, we will create a formal diagnosis for their specific type of anxiety. Then we’ll determine if the next step is medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of both.

We understand how important mental health is and what a big step it is to seek treatment. Our goal is to ensure you and your loved one never have to feel alone in the process.

Together, we’ll develop a plan that feels right, is customized to their unique needs, and ultimately provides them with the tools they need to face each new day. Whether you or a loved one is facing anxiety, you’re not alone in this. Contact us today.