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Anxiety per se is not a mental health issue. It is a human feature that has helped humanity survive and evolve as a species. Anxiety has often proven to be a useful emotion that helped us be cautious, identify potential threats, and avoid being deceived. It is important to remember that anxiety, as a primary emotion, is not a bad thing or a fault. Society is actually benefiting from wary people who think about what could go wrong and come up with adequate measures to prevent potential tragic situations. However, things change when we are talking about anxiety disorder. Anxiety left unchecked can easily take over our lives and snowball into a profound mental health issue.

How do people with anxiety feel?

Anxiety disorder is a mental health issue that can consume the individual. People with anxiety disorders may feel irrational fears and anxious thoughts that can transform into obsessions. Furthermore, they can often experience panic attacks that can eventually prevent them from living normal lives.

Whether we are talking about, social anxiety – when the person has an overwhelming fear of embarrassing themselves in social situations, or health anxiety – when the person is obsessed with the idea they may develop health problems, a person with anxiety finds it very difficult to take control of their emotion and rationalize their thoughts and fears.

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The most common forms of anxiety include:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – constant worry, fears, and emotions related to everyday activities; it lasts for at least six months.
  • panic disorder – recurrent unexpected panic attacks that manifest as intense fear or discomfort and last for a few minutes.
  • social anxiety disorder – the intense fear of being judged or rejected in a social situation.

What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?

Many people fail to notice if their friend or loved one is struggling with an anxiety disorder because the anxiety symptoms may be misinterpreted. However, upon a closer look, you will be able to notice clear signs when anxiety is a constant presence in someone’s life.

Physical symptoms include sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and a persistent feeling of restlessness. When talking with anxious people, you’ll often notice they are overwhelmed by excessive worry and always believe the worst will happen. Individuals with anxiety have often an all-or-nothing approach to everything and tend to overgeneralize.

Moreover, their worries and fears contribute to an anxious behavior that leads to the avoidance of the situations they fear the most, as well as increased frustration and irritability. People with anxiety tend to be consumed with indecisiveness and may fall into the trap of compulsive or obsessive behavior or phobic behavior.

What to do if you want to help people suffering from anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States which means chances are you already know someone struggling with its effects. While it may not seem as dangerous as depression or other mental health conditions, anxiety can significantly impact someone’s life and can open the door to more serious mental health issues.

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Learn about anxiety

First and foremost, it is important to educate ourselves regarding anxiety disorders and the toll they may take on our loved ones. Take the time to learn about the different forms of anxiety and try to identify the type of anxiety your friend or family member is trying to overcome. Familiarize yourself with the signs of anxiety and start recognizing them to better understand what triggers the fears and when it is the right time to intervene.

Be there for them

Telling someone you have noticed their struggle and want to be there for them may make a world of difference to them. People with anxiety often welcome help because this means they are not alone in their battle with their fears. The burden they have been carried up until that point suddenly feels lighter. Talk to them and express your concern and availability to listen.

Provide the support they prefer

Talk to the person who needs your help and see what type of support they prefer. For example, anxious people who struggle with an avoidant attachment style respond better to strong displays of practical support, while those who battle the fear of being abandoned may need emotional support. Understand their needs and patiently respond to them.

Encourage self-help and/or professional help

Calmly discuss the appropriate help they think they need. If the person wants to try and overcome their anxiety on their own, you can suggest meditation, self-help books, exercise, or relaxation training while encouraging them to always ask for help when they feel overwhelmed. Whether they ask for help from their loved ones or a professional, they need to feel validation and find that their feelings are acknowledged and treated with sensitivity.

What not to do if you want to help people suffering from anxiety?

Learning what is not helpful when you try to be there for anxious people is just as important as the things you do to help them heal.

Don’t encourage their anxious behavior

While helping people with anxiety plays an important part in the healing process, taking over for them and allowing them to rely on their avoidance behavior can do more harm than good. Stop doing things that may enable their anxiety and avoid providing constant reassurance. This will only make their anxiety worse and encourage them to remain stuck in their anxious pattern.

Don’t force them to face their fears

While anxious people need to face their fears and break the avoidance pattern, this needs to be done on their own terms or with the help of a psychologist or therapist. A person with anxiety will not react positively when forced to deal with a difficult situation if they haven’t taken the time and necessary steps to properly prepare mentally and emotionally.

Don’t judge or stigmatize them

One of the most frequent reactions anxious people get from their friends and family is the trivialization of their fears and worries. Even if you feel like their fear is not a big deal, avoid telling them that. This will only belittle their emotions, affect their self-respect, and will amount to nothing constructive. Also, avoid defining them only through their anxiety and reassure them that your opinion about them hasn’t changed even if they are now struggling with a mental health issue. Remind them about the positive aspects of their identity and spend time with them doing what they like and helps them feel better about themselves.

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Do not let their anxiety take over your life

Helping someone with anxiety may have an impact on your mental health too. You may from time to time feel frustrated, tired, or even scared, and these emotions may affect your well-being. Set clear boundaries and try to deal with all these emotions rationally, so you can avoid turning them into your own anxiety. You are there to help them, but the healing process needs to be supervised by a health professional who can prescribe appropriate treatments for anxiety.

Depression is a serious mental health condition that may affect anyone at some point in their life. It doesn’t discriminate and has no favorites. It can affect young and old people, and no one is really immune to its symptoms. However, depression can be treated, and friends and family can make a difference for those suffering from this disorder. But only if they educate themselves and understand the toll depression can have on the mental health of their loved ones.

How do you know if a friend is suffering from depression?

Depression can impact a person’s everyday life and cause sadness, pain, and tremendous suffering. While associated with numerous symptoms, at times, it may feel like an invisible cloud looming over a person without them even being aware of its presence. There are different types of depression and different symptoms that betray its presence in the life of someone you love. A person suffering from this condition may exhibit common warning signs like:

Loss of interest in everyday tasks

They have lost interest in their work, hobbies, or any activities that used to bring them joy.

Social isolation

They avoid spending time with friends or family and have withdrawn from social activities.

Constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness

They are feeling sad all the time and seem to have lost their hope or become critical or irritable and adopt a pessimistic attitude regarding life.

woman sad

Changes in appetite

They eat more or less than usual, and you can notice a significant change in their weight.

Changes in their sleeping pattern

They either sleep more or less than usual and seem to always be disoriented, indecisive, and not really present anymore.

Increased alcohol consumption or substance abuse

They start to drink or rely on sleeping pills or painkillers to numb their pain.

While some people struggling with depression may exhibit symptoms like the ones mentioned above, others may simply feel unhappy or sad without any reason in particular. Children suffering from depression rarely manifest their depression through sadness and are more likely to exhibit it through irritability.

What you need to understand about depression

Depression is a serious mental health condition and not just a rough patch someone is going through. It will not eventually pass on its own. The person going through this experience has no control over their state of mind and mood, and their emotional health is severely affected by this disorder. They find it hard to fight it on their own and, most of the time, especially when dealing with clinical depression, they need therapy to understand what they are going through. It is not enough to make them aware of their condition for them to start the healing process. Depression often overcomes the force of will.

Depression

Persons dealing with depression cannot be held accountable for everything hurtful they might say. They are struggling with an avalanche of emotions and find it very hard to find anything positive around them. This can only lead to increased irritability and frustration, often materialized as criticism and anger. Try to understand where they are coming from and don’t hold this against them. They still love you and this is not about you. Don’t take it personally.

The same goes for persons suffering from depression who have no interest in going to work, doing their chores, or engaging in any social activities. You shouldn’t label them as lazy, and you should try to understand they can barely find the energy to get out of bed. Depression is often accompanied by feelings of extreme tiredness and lack of motivation.

What you shouldn’t do if you want to help a friend with depression?

Ignoring a friend with depression is never the way to go, nor is helping them hide their issue. This can only drag them deeper into an unhealthy pattern and “legitimize” their behavior stripping them of any intention to ask for help or discuss their problems with a therapist. The person suffering from this condition needs to get treatment as soon as possible to prevent their mental health concerns from getting worse and prolonging their dark times and even the risk of suicide.

A friend with depression is not a broken person in need of fixing. You do not need to come with a solution to their problems nor take upon yourself the burden of their depression. You cannot be responsible for a person’s happiness, thus you cannot consider yourself responsible for their depression either. What you can do is be there for them when they need support and love them. Finding the path to recovery from depression is a personal journey that only the person battling the condition can find and walk on.

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What can you do if you want to help a friend with depression?

If you think your friend is suffering from depression, you can start by paying attention to common signs that may indicate this condition. Observe their behavior and see if you can notice any symptoms of depression. Keep an eye on their mood changes and notice if they complain of unexplained pains and aches, like back pains or headaches.

Be there for them when they ask for help but avoid telling them depression is not a real problem or that it is natural to feel sad at times and everyone is going through tough times. Avoid giving them advice or serving them cliches about how they should focus on the positive or that it is all in their head. This will only make them withdraw even more and avoid your presence.

Be compassionate and show you care about them and that their friendship is important. Depression is never someone’s fault and can’t be fixed overnight. Listen to everything the person has to tell you, and don’t make any judgments. Sometimes, listening to someone is enough to make them feel better and lighter.

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Offer to help them with daily tasks and create a routine for them to feel more in control and at ease around you. Encourage them to respect their treatment, take their medication, and participate in meetings organized by support groups. Explain they are not alone in this journey and that you are going to be there for them every step of the way. Discuss the beneficial effects of eating healthier and spending time outdoors.

People with severe depression may contemplate suicide. You need to understand the suicide risk and be aware of the fact that it is possible for your friend to think about taking their own life. If you believe this to be true, act immediately and talk to them about your concern. Ask for help from a mental health professional and let their family and close friends know about the risk. Create a safe environment around them and make sure they don’t have medications or weapons at hand. If the risk for suicide is high, call 911 and do not leave the person on their own.

Often the holiday season is seen as a wonderful time of the year, however that doesn’t have the same joyous impact on everyone. People struggling with mental health issues and unaccepting families may find the holiday season quite difficult to manage and at times, triggering. The media portrays the holidays as a magical season where families get together around the tree, sing carols, and share laughter. The pressure to rise to the expectations of the season combined with the stress of family gatherings may bring mental health struggles to the surface.

Additionally, people who spend the holidays alone may experience increased feelings of loneliness and sadness when faced with society’s “demand” to have a joyous time. While many enjoy making holiday plans, 64% of people living with mental health conditions report that the holiday season makes their mental conditions worse.

Spending time with family can turn into a very stressful time and become a source of anxiety, especially for members of the LGBTQ community. Many LGTBQ and non-binary individuals are exposed to homophobic and transphobic sentiments and rejection by family members throughout the year and may be exacerbated during family reunions. Family time may become a reminder of feeling “othered” by your family. Feeling “othered” by family can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. And even if members of the LGBTQ community choose not to return home for the holidays, the expectation of spending the holidays with family in a cheerful setting may loom over them which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

loneliness

Even people who have no history of mental health challenges may at times experience anxiety, frustration, sadness, fatigue, and loneliness around holiday time, particularly when associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Whether you are living with a mental health challenge or not, the holiday season can bring an immense amount of stress. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage through the holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings

Every holiday season has a different emotional charge. Take a step back and analyze your emotions. Listen to your mind and soul and see what they need to feel better. Is the holiday spirit reservoir empty? That is fine. Accept that this year you lack the enthusiasm and capacity to get all caught up in the traditional cheeriness. Happiness can’t be forced! Embrace your emotions and remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Bring a Reminder with you

If you are at a family event that may bring added stress, bring something with you. This could be a picture of a loved one, an essential oil to ground you when overwhelmed, a piece of paper with a mantra on it, a funny animal video online, etc. Step away at times and look at these reminders.

woman in therapy

Communicate with your partner ahead of time

If you are bringing someone with you to a holiday event create a plan ahead of time regarding the type of support you may need. It’s important to strategize in order for you to feel support, connection, and security. Remember that you are on the same team as your significant other. If you feel you need to leave an event early or buy one less gift it’s important for your partner to be supportive and attuned to your needs.

Be realistic about shopping and hosting

Ask others to help with the burdens of holiday shopping, decorating the house, and cooking meals. Spend only the money you can afford to avoid the stress of having to think about ways to save money next year to cover the debt. Don’t sacrifice your mental health for the sake of appearances. Admit if you can’t afford to buy presents this year. No one will judge you. And even if they would, your mental health is more important than anyone’s opinion.

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Be honest with yourself and connect with a safe community

If possible, try to avoid forced celebrations that you do not feel comfortable attending. Be gentle and kind to yourself, and don’t force unrealistic expectations. Connect with your loved ones, your support group, a therapist, or simply start a conversation with some of your friends. A simple walk with a friend can plant the seed of hope and joy you can experience in the years to come.

Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol may make you feel better in the moment, but it is known to be a depressant. Try to not rely on alcohol or drugs to make it through.. Both may only make your mental health condition worse. Numbing your feelings is not the only way to work through the holiday blues and manage your mental health needs. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and depression.

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Prioritize self-care

Include healthy habits in your schedule, and do not sacrifice them to make time for others. Your physical health is very important. Exercise, eat healthy meals, and try to relax as much as possible. If you need a break from all the merriness, take a break. Set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself. You can go out for a walk, watch a movie, practice deep breathing, or meditate. Whatever takes you back to yourself and helps you soothe your feelings of anxiety or stress! Remember that winter also comes with less sunlight and this may have an impact on your mood. Try to include outdoor exercise in your routine to get your share of natural light.

Be assertive (if safe to do so)

No one feels comfortable during tension created by conflicts and sometimes we avoid confrontations but sometimes, especially for LGBTQ and non-binary individuals, assertiveness may be necessary. CAUTION- assertiveness is only healthy to utilize if there are no safety concerns, please assess for any safety concerns first. If there are no safety concerns, here some helpful ways to be assertive. Speak up for yourself if you feel hurt by certain comments or you believe to be the victim of microaggressions, such as snubs or insults, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional. You do not need to change for anyone, and this should be your mantra. Set gentle yet firm boundaries to stop any potential toxicity. Repeat to yourself whenever necessary that you have the right to be who you are and you deserve everyone’s respect.