No matter who it is that is struggling in your life, most anxiety sufferers share a common goal - to feel supported and understood by everyone in their life.
Unfortunately, the debilitating nature of anxiety can make those suffering seem… “different” than the average person, perhaps making them come across as say: overly sensitive, closed-off, agitated, etc. Unless you are an anxiety sufferer yourself, it can be easy to interpret these reactions as a characteristic of a particular individual, rather than a reaction to an ever-consuming ailment.
This is why we think it is so important that everyone becomes properly educated on anxiety, the various types, the possible symptoms, and how best to support those struggling. To learn more about the various types and possible symptoms, please click here.
Below we have outlined the five fundamentals we believe are critical to providing the best support possible; no matter the type of anxiety.
No matter who the individual is, it is unlikely that they will welcome your support fully if they do not first build a connection with you. It is important that they feel comfortable enough with you to divulge what could be very painful emotions. Plus, they need to know that you will not judge them but rather, validate what they are feeling. Which leads to our next point...
If you do not personally struggle with anxiety or a particular type of anxiety, it can be difficult to personally relate to how someone is reacting or feeling. This is ok – we are all different, we all handle situations differently. We are not asking you to necessarily agree with how they react or feel, but we do encourage you to accept it. This small but powerful distinction shows them that you accept them for who they are and are not trying to impose your personal opinions on their reactions.
Which leads to our next point...
As humans, we are wired to help others. It is a natural reaction to want to impose our own opinions or experiences on others in the hopes to improve their situation. Despite the best of intentions, this is not always the best choice.
Our belief is this: unless otherwise asked, show your support by joining them on their journey, not by leading them through it. What we mean by this is express your concern for the difficulties they are experiencing, and make it known that you are here for them for whatever they need. That said, you are not going to be quick to judge and assume that means telling them what they need to do to overcome their anxiety (or whatever mental health concern they are currently dealing with).
If they want your advise on a situation, they will ask. That said, it is quite possible they may "simply" want someone to listen to them, or to show them that they are not alone in their journey to mental wellness. We use the word "simply" here lightly because what may seem like a simple act, can actually make a world of a difference to this individual.
Oh...and if you do not know what they are looking for from you, do not be afraid to ask - it shows you care!
How you word things is extremely important. For instance, those who suffer from anxiety should not be identified by this ailment – it is something they experience but it does not define them. They are human first and foremost. Meaning, instead of saying “you are anxious”, try saying “you are experiencing anxiety”. Simple yet powerful distinction. For more on the impact of wording, checkout our article.
Remember, they are experiencing a difficult time, they are not giving you a hard time.
By focusing on the former you are recognizing the impact of the anxiety, not the disorder itself. In doing so, you not only help yourself, but you can help the sufferer as well. By identifying the anxiety by the symptoms, you can allow this individual to are not a true reflection of ther person they are. This can also help in learning to manage the anxiety itself.