how to help
what works and what doesn't
-how to help someone with-
what works and what doesn't
I come from a long line of non-worriers. My dad never worried about anything, and he passed that gene to me. I always expect everything to work out great and nothing to go wrong, and most of the time it turns out that I’m right. Not all the time, but most of the time. So when I was faced with family members experiencing real anxiety, I wisely told them they should stop it. I generously gave them true insight into real life by saying things like “just quit worrying about everything!” and “look around, everything’s fine!” They were impressed and felt better immediately. Or at least that’s how I thought they should respond. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. I had to learn how to help someone with anxiety.
As it turns out, anxiety is real. It is not worry, it is not something anyone is doing wrong, and it is not “feeling anxious.” In fact, it’s not a feeling at all; it is a clinical condition that requires real treatment, just like a sinus infection or a broken bone. In fact, the way most people talk about “anxiety” like it’s a feeling one just needs to ‘get over’ is truly offensive to those who experience the real condition called anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
I should know – I have multiple people in my extended family who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder of some type. I have never experienced it myself, so I had to learn the hard way what it really is. I thought they were just worrying too much about everything, and not using their brains to think logically and realistically.
I didn’t understand how they could be so intelligent and understand the world around them with complete clarity, and still have crippling anxiety about it in spite of the facts right in front of them.
If you’re trying to understand how someone in your family or friend circle could possibly be so anxious about things they should not be worried about – even to the point of damaging their physical health – then here are a few tips about how to help someone with anxiety.
Tips for Helping Someone with Anxiety
- Realize that if you don’t have anxiety, you (most likely) don’t understand it – and that’s okay. They don’t need you to understand what they’re experiencing, and they definitely don’t want you to experience it. They just need you to believe and support them. They need you to listen and not take it personally. They need you to be calming and assuring and completely non-judging of them, because it’s not something they’re doing wrong.
- Stop equating anxiety with worry. Anxiety is not being overly worried. It is not something one can ignore until it goes away.
- Admit that anxiety is physical. It goes far beyond normal worry or concern, and is not faulty reasoning. It has a physical impact and again – it is not a fault that needs to be corrected. It is a condition that needs to be treated.
- Acknowledge that it’s real. Don’t keep trying to explain to them how their thinking is not logical, or how their fear is not real. It is real, and when you acknowledge that to your loved one, you are helping.
- Resist the urge to “fix it.” You can’t do it. You are not equipped to fix the problem, no matter how logical or persuasive you might be, because that’s simply not how it works.
- Be in favor of and support them in getting professional help. When you have a medical problem, you go to the doctor and get it fixed, right? That’s exactly what anxiety is: a real problem with real solutions that can be deployed to make life better. So support the person in your life in getting that help, and don’t be condescending about it.
Let me close with this: I realized that this article is an oversimplification of the problems you face trying to help someone navigate their anxiety, but hopefully it can help you stop alienating your loved one who is experiencing anxiety, and instead start helping them make progress toward a life free of the stress and debilitation that comes with an anxiety disorder. If you’d like to read more about how to help someone with anxiety, click here
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