How to help a loved one with anxiety

anxietyYou’ve seen it so many times. The way she checks her pulse over and over. The way he gets out of his chair and starts pacing around the room. The pained, distant look in her eyes as some unreasonable fear creeps up in her head.

When a loved one suffers from an anxiety disorder, it can be tough to watch. You know all too well that her racing pulse doesn’t mean she’s having a heart attack. You know that whatever has him pacing around the room wouldn’t seem so daunting if only he could see it from a rational perspective. And you know whatever fear that leaves her mind a thousand miles away and her eyes looking vacant needn’t drive her so deeply within herself.

The problem is that you can’t fight your loved one’s demons for him or her. And you can’t use calm reasoning and logical arguments to talk anyone out of his anxiety. You know everything is okay even when your loved one doesn’t, and it can be hard not to feel helpless in the face of it.

We understand because we’ve been there. But take heart. We’re here to tell you that, even though you can’t make your loved one see reality, you’re not helpless. There are several ways you can make a real difference in his or her life and help them work through the anxiety that puts such a damper on life.

If that sounds like something you want, then read on.

  1. Recommend getting professional help. If the anxiety appears to disrupt their life, diminish their daily joy, or in any way affect their ability to work or take care of his or herself, if nothing else a consultation with a mental health professional is called for. This can be a hard sell, of course, as people can be touchy about being told to see a therapist. But if you package your suggestion in words of love and make it abundantly clear that your only concern is to see her suffer less and enjoy life more, you’re more likely to receive a positive response.
  1. Learn about anxiety disorders. Buy a book; do your research. Empathy, not logical arguments, is what the anxiety sufferer needs most from you. When someone feels understood in the midst of anxiety, that person feels less alone, and that in turn can help lessen the immediate symptoms. On the other hand, trying to convince the sufferer that nothing is wrong will likely result in anger and a sense that you think he or she is crazy. The agitation of all this can cause the anxiety in that moment to worsen. If he or she has a therapist, trust that professional to work on the disorder. Your job is to love the person, and seeking to understand what they are going through will help facilitate that.
  1. Encourage healthy living. When suffering from an anxiety disorder, life can feel so overwhelming that taking care of oneself can seem a daunting task. Sometimes this shows up as poor hygiene, sometimes as eating too little or eating too much junk food, and sometimes it manifests as destructive habits like overconsumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Of course, no one likes to be told what to do. If you’re too forceful in encouraging him to take care of himself, he’ll likely push you away. But if you are careful and gentle in your suggestions, you might be able to steer her away from negative habits and towards more positive ones. For instance, if your loved one keeps visiting fast food restaurants because she can’t bear to cook for herself right now, suggest healthier alternatives like sandwich shops or soup and salad joints. If he’s a smoker, buy him a vaporizer pen. This will allow him to get his nicotine fix and enjoy the oral habit of smoking but without the deadly side effects.

There you have it. Right now helping your loved one through his or her anxiety requires a less is more approach. Recommend therapy, learn about anxiety disorders so you can better empathize, and gently encourage healthier living. Beyond that, you’ll have to let time and counseling take care of the rest.