Anxiety makes people feel isolated. Unless you have it, anxiety is hard to understand. It makes people think irrational thoughts, behave in strange ways, attempt to flee from perceived fear, have outbursts and other experiences that non-anxious people do not understand.
If you’re a spouse, parent, or friend of someone who has anxiety, it’s important to understand how it manifests in your friend. For example, if your friend has panic attacks, this form of anxiety strikes out of nowhere and is terrifying. If your friend has phobias, exposure to the trigger will cause what looks like an overreaction. It might catch you off guard or appear to be bizarre. However, your friend or family member needs your support. A person with anxiety does not want to be judged or thought to be crazy. The triggers feel real to them no matter how unusual they are. Feel free to ask about the anxiety as that shows an interest and empathy.
Below are things not to say because they can make a person with anxiety feel worse or even more anxious.
- “Don’t be afraid”– This is not helpful because, in their mind, the fear is real. Reassure your friend that they are safe and you’re there.
“You’re acting ridiculously”— These are hurtful words to a person with anxiety. It might help to remember that until they learn to manage their anxiety, it feels out of their control.
“It’s all in your head”–Well, anxiety is a thought disorder. People with anxiety over-estimate danger, and then their mind and body react to the perceived threat. So while the perception of the threat is skewed, having others minimize it only increases the anxiety symptoms.
“You’re crazy”— Yikes! People with anxiety already feel awful, so using words like this only hurt more and reinforce negative thoughts about self. Sure the actions of an anxious person might look out of the ordinary when they are having an episode; they’re not certainly not crazy.
“You’re going to worry yourself to death.”–While it feels like it, the experience of anxiety will not kill a person. While excessive worry is not good for a healthy mind, telling a person, they’re going to worry themselves to death isn’t helpful.
You can be helpful by reassuring your friend or family member who is in the middle of an anxiety attack, that they are okay. Most anxiety spells last for a few minutes though some people can experience longer ones. Still, they need assuring that the feeling will pass.
Encourage them to take little steps toward getting past their triggers. If your friend is afraid of elevators, offer to go on an elevator with them. Doing this could help them to meet the anxiety head-on knowing that their support person is there.
You can help by encouraging your friend to do grounding techniques. These simple things they can do in the midst of an attack to refocus their attention. Tell them to focus on something they can–touch, feel, smell and see. Simple, but useful in helping to decrease the panic of anxiety.
It is perfectly acceptable to suggest your friend or family member get professional help. Anxiety is very responsive to treatment. Keep in mind that anxiety is a general term and that there are many types. At The Center for Child Development, we help people with anxiety to learn how to be anxiety free. We help them to take back their lives and stop allowing anxiety to control them. Call today for an appointment 302-292-1334 x101