Have you heard your loved one say to you “I’m fine” when they don’t really seem ‘fine’? What about, “it’s nothing, just a bad headache”? Maybe you’ve noticed they seem to have more than “just a bad headache,” yet you’re not quite sure what to do to help them.
We know that you care deeply about the ones close to you, especially when something doesn’t seem quite right. It’s also very common to feel at a loss of what to do when and if it seems like your loved ones are showing signs of anxiety.
What not to do is very simple, and unfortunately is a common practice: shrugging off their anxious attitude or feelings, and telling them to “calm down”. The reality is, these are not helpful things to say. In fact, they do more harm than good.
So what can you do instead, if you feel your loved one is showing signs of anxiety?
Learn to Recognize the Symptoms, Thoughts, and Behaviours of Anxiety
By understanding the symptoms of anxiety, you can recognize when your loved one is experiencing anxious and fearful thoughts and feelings. Symptoms of anxiety vary for each person, however we have broken it down into three categories.
1. Physical Symptoms:
- Feeling lightheaded
- Sweating more than usual
- Feeling nauseous
- Feeling on edge and/or restless
- Feeling short of breath
- Feeling fatigued more easily
2. Anxious Thoughts:
- Belief in the worst happening
- Persistently worrying
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Making overall assumptions based on a single incident (overgeneralizing)
3. Anxious Behaviours:
- Avoiding situations or events out of fear
- Constantly seeking reassurance
- Second guessing
- Fear of situations or places
- Irritability and frustration of situations and places
- OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) actions, such as obsessive hand washing
What Not to Do If You Think Your Loved One Has Anxiety
Do Not Tell Them to “Calm Down”: It is not a harmless comment as you may think. This remark tells your loved ones to stop feeling what they are feeling. As a result, they will feel misunderstood and invalidated by this dismissive phrase, as well as another example which is to “stop worrying.” Your loved ones may seem okay on the outside, but inside they’re experiencing fear, distress, and even physical symptoms like excessive sweat or shortness of breath, which is very real and hard for them to cope with.
Do Not Enable: Anxiety is not something that simply ‘goes away’. Your first instinct to support your loved one may be to help them get around their situations by going out of your way to remove the reason for their anxiety. What happens instead is that by continuously avoiding facing the triggers of anxiety, these triggers can worsen and your loved one’s anxiety will grow and manifest in greater ways.
Do Not Force Any Confrontation: Forcing your loved one to “face their fear” or their anxiety triggers also does more harm than good. Pushing someone who is not ready to face their anxiety in their own time will damage your relationship with them; it’s a sign from you that you are not respecting their boundaries.
Do Not Talk About Their Anxiety Constantly: It’s best to avoid bringing up their anxiety (or suspected anxiety) or asking questions about it to them, if they’re not wanting or willing to talk about it.
Do Not Get Frustrated: Do not take it personally or get frustrated if your loved one is not as engaged in everyday life and activities as you are. Living with anxiety can involve a lack of wanting to participate in hobbies or social activities. Their defense mechanism kicks in when they cut themselves off from everyday life.
What You Can Do If You Think Your Loved One Has Anxiety
Get An Understanding of Their Symptoms: Anxiety affects people differently. With many anxiety symptoms, your loved ones may show behaviours including acting defensive, irritable, and restless. Take some time to read up on the types of anxiety and their symptoms. This can help you understand what your loved one is going through, and help you empathize with their experiences and show times when they may need extra support.
Let Them Know You’re There for Them: Explain to your loved ones you noticed they seemed more anxious lately and you want to help. They don’t have to deal with their anxious feelings or situation alone. Having the conversation helps to show your loved ones they have someone who cares about them, wants to listen to them, and wants them to feel better.
Validate Their Feelings: “It’s okay to not be okay.” It’s a bit cliché, however it still rings true. Let your loved one know it is okay to feel what they are feeling. Validate them and how they are feeling.
Listen to How They Wish to be Supported: Ask how you can support your loved ones and what they would prefer. They may want help to accomplish a task or project they feel anxious about, or for you to help distract them from any anxious thoughts, or they simply want someone to talk to.
What You Can Say:
- How may I help you?
- I am worried about you, I noticed you have been anxious recently.
- I am always here for you.
- Would you like to go for a walk and talk about it?
Keep Communication Open: Keep an open line of communication with your loved ones if they have (or are suspected to have) anxiety. See them regularly, if possible, to help with anxiety management. Give them one-on-one time to give them the opportunity to talk about how they are feeling. See how their week is going by keeping in touch over the phone, text, email, or video calling every few days or once a week.
Care for Yourself: When helping someone with their anxiety, you can also feel a sense of frustration, fear, and exhaustion. Their anxiety can “rub off” on you as an effect. By taking care of yourself, you are better able to help take care of them. Don’t forget that you too are doing your best.
Encourage Focus on What They Can Change: Though there are parts of their situation your loved ones can’t control, there are some aspects they do have control over. Conversing with what can be controlled and not can help allow them to process their feelings and identify what they can and cannot do about what they’re anxious about.
Express Concern: Be warm and comforting and approach things in a positive way. Start by telling them you noticed a change in their behaviour. For example:
“I noticed you have avoided going to (location) and other social gatherings. Do you wish to share with me what caused (you think caused) the change?”
You may gently ask if they need help or support with coping, depending on the reaction of the conversation.
Help Them Help Themselves: Supporting your loved one can look like educating yourself on coping tools and skills. This helps to encourage them to use these tools when feeling anxious. You can teach them “grounding exercises” to help redirect focus from their anxiety back to the present. One exercise focuses on the immediate physical environment (where you are), then name:
- 5 things you see
- 4 things you feel (like feet on the floor, or chair on your back)
- 3 things you hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 good thing you can say about yourself
Know When to Seek Professional Help: If you feel your loved one has anxiety and has not been diagnosed or gotten help for it, and it affects their everyday life and their ability to enjoy it or causes problems at home, professional help is recommended. Gently encourage your loved one to make an appointment with a mental health professional, reminding them it is just one appointment if there is pushback. It is just a check-in, like a physical, but rather for your emotional and mental health.
Our staff at Hopewoods are here for you and your loved ones when you both need to be guided to a path of recovery. If you feel a loved one is experiencing signs or symptoms of anxiety, do not hesitate to contact us for help. Anxiety is manageable with the right knowledge and care, to live healthily and happily.
If you’re still hesitant or you’d like to get to know our staff, services, and clinic better, feel free to ask your questions at one of our free 30-minute consultations. You can book here to get started.