How to Help a Loved One with Anxiety0 comments
Talking Someone Through the Terror: how to help a loved one with anxiety. Suffering with anxiety is a frightening and difficult experience for anyone who’s been through it. Watching someone suffer with anxiety can be just as scary and frustrating. If you are a friend, relative, or spouse who has a loved one that struggles to cope with their anxiety you know how strenuous it can be on both of you. Even if the anxiety is not your own, living with someone who has anxiety can sometimes induce anxiety symptoms in those around them. The key to living with and loving an anxiety sufferer is utilizing your own tools to help them through the terror.
As an outsider looking in, you have a unique opportunity for observation and intervention. Rather than becoming a passive spectator or a co-sufferer, taking your partner’s anxiety symptoms on as your own, you must learn to be an active participant in the healing process. One of the most valuable ways you can do this is by talking your loved one through their anxiety symptoms. From your position you can help them decipher their anxiety in each instance, recognize triggers, and utilize coping mechanisms to assuage their symptoms.
When you recognize your partner beginning to develop anxiety symptoms, you have a chance to bring it to their attention before it becomes a full blown attack. Most likely, you already know what the symptoms are: nervousness, depression, etc. If you live with the victim, then you are usually well aware that their symptoms are building even before they are. If not, spend a few days or weeks watching and taking mental notes. What happens before your partner’s attack? How do they behave or react to certain circumstances? Does the anxiety build for several hours or even days? Does it seem instantaneous with little to no warning? Learn to predict when your friend or loved one is suffering so that you can intervene positively.
When anxiety is established and it is evident that your help is needed, try and get your spouse or friend to sit down with you. Engage them in a comfortable activity or setting. Begin by asking questions, both to divert their attention from the symptoms and to help them work through what’s really happening. Help them decipher if their anxiety is realistic, catastrophizing, true in this case, or always true. For example, if your loved one is reacting to an upcoming deadline, are they realistically anxious because much is riding on the completion of the project and they are behind? Are they blowing a small project out of proportion or not recognizing how far off the deadline remains or how much they’ve already completed? Do they consign their anxiety only to this particular deadline, fearful that they may miss it but confident that they can meet others? Or do they project their anxiety onto any and all deadlines that may come, if I can’t meet this one I’ll never be able to meet another deadline? Pinpointing what category their anxiety falls into can help to determine how much is genuine and how much is not, thereby letting you know practically what needs attention and what doesn’t.
Next, help you partner or loved one determine what triggers led to this particular episode or could be leading to an episode. Shuffle through the possibilities with them, suggesting any triggers that have made themselves known in the past. Have them go through their day or week starting from the present moment and working backwards. Encourage them to share anything that sticks in their mind, triggers aren’t always largely evident. Some detective work may be required. When you do begin to uncover the events or circumstances that triggered the anxiety, point them out and discuss them in detail with your partner to deflate their power. Why does this particular trigger upset them? Is it avoidable or not? Does it always trigger anxiety in them or just this once? How can they learn to view this trigger differently, so that it doesn’t create anxiety symptoms?
Finally, help your loved one engage the tools they are equipped with to combat the anxiety. Offer to make them a favorite cup of tea, go for a walk with them, or put on their favorite music. Instigate breathing exercises or quieting activities such as knitting or doing a puzzle. Work to help them shift their focus from the anxiety onto something else. If the source of their anxiety needs to be addressed, such as an upcoming deadline, help them break what they need to do down into less threatening actions. Then encourage them to start at the beginning and work alongside them or let them know you are available to help if needed. Feeling alone can often increase the anxious response, so letting your partner know that they are not alone can make a big difference.
Remember, your perspective in your loved one’s anxiety is unique. Be a whistle blower when you can see anxiety building. Be a mediator for your partner and their symptoms and triggers. Be a motivator and coach through the healing process. If your partner is not willing to sit and talk through the experience, find subtle ways to encourage soothing behavior or point out triggers. Speak positively to them to counteract the negative self-talk that happens in their mind, and try to encourage them to explore their anxiety on their own if that makes them more comfortable. As a friend or loved one of someone suffering with anxiety, you can be the link between the frightening place where they are and the calming place they’d like to be.