How to help someone with anxiety
It can be hard to know that your loved one is suffering from anxiety. Especially when the anxiety or panic attacks are so intense that it causes problems in their everyday life. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to help. These are discussed below.
It is a good idea to read as much information on anxiety and panic attacks as you can. Understanding anxiety and how it works will help you to recognise the signs that your loved one needs help.
To read more information on anxiety, you can view our pages on anxiety and getting help for anxiety disorders.
Help them to feel supported
It can be easy for someone to feel alone and isolated as they try to cope with anxiety. Your attitude towards their difficulties can make a difference.
Show acceptance- Often times the anxiety might make them feel like they are somehow flawed. For this reason, it is important to let them know that they are not flawed, and they are loved with or without the anxiety problems.
Give validation- The anxiety problem might be something that is difficult for you to understand, but it is a real problem for them. Acknowledge the ways that anxiety is an issue for them with an attitude that is non-judgmental and non-critical.
Help them how they want to be helped
Instead of guessing, it is good to ask how they would like to be helped. They might already know what is helpful for their anxiety and what isn’t. Some people might want you to sit with them through a panic attack, whereas others might want you to give them some space to calm down. Other ways that your loved one might want help can include:
- Doing a deep breathing exercise together
- Going for a walk or jog
- Remind them that the panic feelings will pass
- Remind them that nothing bad will actually happen
- Reassure them that you are there for them
- Research their condition to understand it better
- Help them to look up support groups, therapists or self-help resources
Know what NOT to do
When it comes to our loved ones, it makes sense to do whatever it takes to help them cope with an anxiety problem. This is not always a good thing. It is important to keep the following in mind:
Do not enable the anxiety- You might think you are helping by enabling your loved one to avoid certain situations due to anxiety. For example, you might make sure that you are always present so that they can avoid taking elevators alone. This might seem helpful, but in the long run your loved one isn’t having any opportunities to face the feared situation. It is good to think about small ways that you could stop enabling the anxiety to continue.
Do not force a confrontation- At the same time, you must not force your loved one to face the feared situation. This might damage the trust between you and make the anxiety worse. If the anxiety is severe and any type of exposure is too much for your loved one, it is good to consider involving a professional.
Help them to find the right support
If you find that anxiety is becoming a problem for your loved one you can encourage them to find support through a GP or therapist. If this involves your young child, you can contact these services. You might:
- Help them to book an appointment with a GP or therapist.
- Offer support when they attend appointments (e.g. waiting in the waiting room or attending some sessions if you need to)
- Help them search for support groups or self-help resources (e.g. leaflets, mindfulness apps, relaxation sessions)
- Encourage them to keep attending sessions and to not give up
- Give them small reminders to do their homework assigned by the therapist
Look after yourself too
It is extremely important for you to look after yourself. Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, you will be in a better position to give help, as long as you are taking care of your own well-being.
To read more about looking after yourself, see our page on self-care when helping someone else.
List of useful resources
To read information about helping someone with anxiety on the MIND website, you can click here to access the link.
To read more about anxiety and caregiving on the Anxiety UK website, you can click here to access the link.
To view a list of available charities and organisations that provide support for different mental health issues, you can click here to access the link.