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.
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.
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.
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.