#mentalhealthawarenessweek | 7 ways you can help support someone with anxiety?

I have talked a few times now about mental health and anxiety, specifically about my battle with body image which is this years Mental Health Awareness Week theme and blogged some tips that have helped me with my anxiety.

It can be really hard to 'deal with' someone who is suffering from anxiety.

I say 'deal with' because sometimes that's how it feels doesn't it?

Like it's a burden or you are babysitting.

Believe me, I know.

My Mum has suffered with anxiety and depression for my whole life.

And as a confident, outgoing teenager, I could not for the life of me understand why she was the way she was.

Honestly, I just felt thoroughly frustrated by her throughout it all.

I just couldn't understand what she was going through at all.

I was so young and carefree and just wanted her to pull herself together.

Now as an adult and anxiety sufferer myself, I know.

I know inside out what anxiety feels like.

I understand why she was the way she was.

Because that is me now.

So I really do understand anxiety from both viewpoints and really do understand how frustrating it can be for both parties involved.

People with anxiety can be closed off.

People with anxiety can be irritable and tetchy.

People with anxiety can be sensitive and emotional.

People with anxiety can commit to something, then back out at the last minute.

People with anxiety can leave you in the lurch.

People with anxiety can drop friendships like they mean nothing at all to them.

People with anxiety can come across as utterly selfish.

People with anxiety can seem stuck up and not very friendly.

People with anxiety can be HARD WORK.


But as frustrated as you feel with the way they are, they are feeling twice as frustrated with themselves over it too.

Looks can be deceiving and all of these things that manifest outwardly and make an individual appear a certain way - selfish, stuck up, closed, hard, irritable, emotional - are all as a result of the inner turmoil going on in their head.

The constant battle with their own thoughts.

The constant over thinking.

Thinking the worst.

How can I help support someone with anxiety?

  • Try to understand
    I know it's hard if you have never suffered with anxiety yourself. I know that you feel like they should just pull themselves together and 'man-up' but it is really important to understand that we would love to be able to do that. If only it were that easy huh? You need to understand that that is virtually impossible when in the moment. When the voice of anxiety is sounding much louder than any other.
    Try to understand how the anxiety manifests itself in the moment and if that person becomes withdrawn or irritable, give them space. If they become sensitive or emotional, give them reassurance and a hug.
    And there's really no formula to the ways in which we react to the anxiety. Sometimes we will hate physical contact and shudder at the slightest touch but other times all we want is to be close to you, to feel safe. Sometimes we will not want to talk and need silence, other times we won't stop talking, ten to the dozen about nothing in particular.
    So it's hard to know how to react right? You just need to use your intuition and go with it. If in doubt, ask what's the best thing for you to do in that moment.

    "Because of evolution, we’re wired to respond to fear by either fight, flight, or freeze. For different people, one of these responses will typically dominate. For instance, my spouse tends to freeze and will bury her head in the sand rather than deal with things that make her feel stressed and panicky. I tend more toward fighting, and will become irritable, excessively perfectionistic, or dogmatic if I feel stressed."
  • Don't take it personally
    When you plan a day trip out that you are have been looking forward to for months. Your sat waiting to leave with your bags packed ready and then your friend messages you 2 minutes before you are due to leave to say they feel sick and can't make it. You know it's a lie and the overwhelming disappointment you have is making you feel so mad at them? Know that they don't mean it. That they really did want to come, that's why they arranged it with you. But the anxiety became too much for them in the end and they hate themselves for that.
    When your friend doesn't call you or pick up the phone anymore. You haven't spoken in months and you are pretty sure the friendship is over? Don't give up on them. It's not because they no longer want to be friends, its the anxiety making them not want to talk right now. Not just to you, but to anyone. Hang in there and we will come out the otherside. We really do need you!
    When they are sitting waiting to go out with you and you start some general chit chat and they snap at you? You've done nothing wrong but try to be cheery and they are really irritable? When you try to give them a hug and they flinch and move away. It's not you, it's the anxiety making them that way.

  • Don't tell them 'You'll be fine' or 'There's nothing to worry about'
    We know that. Deep down inside, of course we know that. But the voice of anxiety of overbearing and tells us the total opposite. It's much louder than your voice and no amount of telling us we'll be fine, will actually make us feel that we will be fine. Until whatever we are anxious about is over and done with.

    "[What helps me is] calmness, acceptance – not trying to dispel it with 'rational' or 'logical' argument."

  • Don't say 'I told you so'
    When everything does work out and everything really was fine. Don't be all smug and say I told you so. It'll only make us feel worse for how we acted. Because we do come out the other side of it feeling really silly and embarrassed. We really don't need a reminder or something else to start over thinking and worrying about.

  • Don't push - Encourage.
    It's easy to think that someone with anxiety needs to do things out of their comfort zone to try to over come it. And whilst it probably is true that we should do more, to build confidence and come out the other side of it realising it wasn't all that bad, we really don't need you to make that decision for us. If you push us, we'll likely end up going ten steps back.
    There is a total difference between pushing and encouraging. Gentle encouragement to do something out of our comfort zone is actually very helpful. Encouraging us to do something that we might not feel up to, but you know will help us, like a simple little walk outdoors if we've felt a little reclusive. But remember to take baby steps with thing.

  • Be patient
    Patience is essential. Realise that things may take a little longer than usual. That you may be late for something whilst he/she tries to gain a grip on the anxiety. Whilst they obsesses over how they look or the state of the house or something that might seem irrelevant to you.

  • Look after yourself
    Being around someone with anxiety can actually be really draining and it can sometimes feel like they have sapped you of all your positive energy. Being around someone who is anxious can really impact negatively on your own mental health if you don't look after yourself too. Make sure you share responsibility or care of someone with anxiety and rope in other people like family to help where you can.
    Like I said, dealing with a person suffering anxiety can feel like a burden. If you take that pressure entirely on your own shoulders you are going to start to resent that person.

    These may seem like a lot of effort but in reality, the moment you start to put yourself in the other person's shoes and understand what they are going through, empathy and patience come naturally. All of the rest just falls into place.

    Above all else, remember that we don't want to be like this and it isn't a choice. We are doing the best we can to deal with it and only expect the same back from you when dealing with us.


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