About 20 percent of Americans (about 40 million people) struggle with an anxiety illness of some kind. So even if you don’t suffer from anxiety yourself, there is a good possibility that you know someone who does.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, anxiety, also known as clinical anxiety or anxiety disorder, is a set of five mood disorders that has an impact on how you feel, think, and manage daily activities.
According to clinical psychologist Alfiee Breland-Noble, Ph.D. , presenter of the Couched in Color podcast and creator of the AAKOMA Project , a nonprofit organization devoted to mental health treatment and research, “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all description of anxiety even for clinical anxiety.
Nevertheless, there are several benchmarks that can help you identify the kind of clinical anxiety you could be dealing with and how to approach treating it. For instance, the National Institutes of Mental Health states that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) frequently manifests as recurrent, chronic anxiety as well as greater worry and tension than the usual individual even when there isn’t a particularly unpleasant trigger (NIMH). Meanwhile, obsessions (repeating, unwanted thoughts) and/or compulsions are frequent features of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (repetitive behaviors, which can include hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning).
But it’s crucial to remember that identical symptoms might occur even if you don’t have an official anxiety diagnosis. Humans need anxiety to respond to their environment and survive, but when anxiety interferes with daily life instead of aiding survival, it becomes problematic and may even indicate a condition.
In light of this, the experiences of persons with an anxiety disorder are discussed in this article. It can also be challenging to relate to or comprehend someone who is experiencing chronic anxiety if you’ve never had a panic attack or suffered with that kind of worry yourself. You are now here for that reason. Congratulations on being a top-notch friend.
Fear not if a loved one is hurting and in need of support; below, mental health professionals describe how to aid someone with anxiety, including what to say (and what not to say).
WHY CHECKING IN IS ESSENTIAL You might want to rethink your approach if you’ve been trying to give someone who might be experiencing anxiety their space while remaining detached. According to Melva Green, M.D. , a psychiatrist in Baltimore and co-author of Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home, “Individuals suffering from anxiety might sometimes self-isolate or just have problems starting contact with those that they love.” “It’s crucial that other people keep an eye on them. Not only to check on their health, but also to let them know they’re not alone.” According to Breland-Noble, this assistance is essential for anyone dealing with anxiety-related issues. (See also: Mental Health Experts’ Advice on What to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed.)
According to Breland-Noble, telling someone you love them again provides the right kind of assurance. “Sometimes people with anxiety need a lot of external validation for their beliefs and behaviors, and you don’t want to encourage their maladaptive thinking and behaviors,” says the author. You can provide the “necessary support that’s not related to their experience of anxiety or their ability to manage anxiety,” she says, by giving “unconditional love and caring.”
Not to mention the fact that by having a conversation with a loved one who is experiencing anxiety, you are assisting in the de-stigmatization of mental disease and difficulties with mental health. Simply said, you’re eradicating any stigma or guilt associated with mental illness and emotional wellness if you can discuss anxiety in the same way that you would any other subject, according to Terri Bacow, Ph.D., , a psychologist located in New York City and author of Goodbye Anxiety .
WHAT TO SAY TO A PERSON WHO IS ANXIOUS Keep in mind that you should always put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone with anxiety. According to Breland-Noble, “the most crucial part of any of these comments is that you really need to be prepared to serve as best you can when the time comes. I try not to get too involved if I am going through my own issues since I can’t help someone else unless I first heal myself.
In essence, it might not be the best time for you to provide support if you’re feeling a lot of anxiety yourself. Refer to this list of what to say (and not to say) while checking in on someone who has anxiety if you feel like you’re in a good place psychologically and can support a loved one.
ASK QUESTIONS. Most people don’t have a broad mental health vocabulary when they are growing up. It may be incredibly challenging to find the right words to discuss something as complex (and from the outside, mysterious) as anxiety after centuries of mental health being essentially taboo. Therefore, don’t be hesitant to ask questions.
To begin a difficult conversation, one of the most basic but effective strategies, according to Dr. Green, is to do it from a position of genuine curiosity. “Starting the conversation with a sincere desire to comprehend what someone is experiencing can be life-changing.” In this scenario, both sides gain: the person who is struggling feels supported and heard, and the one checking in learns more so that they may go forward from a place of deeper empathy.
So what precisely should curiosity look like? Breland-Noble advises, “Begin with an open-ended question and a very particular statement.” “Something along the lines of, “I love you, I care for you, and I want to do whatever I can to help you.” Is there anything I can do right now to help you? Then actively seek out the response, and follow through on it.”
Can you mention anything I can do to support you right now? That’s a good alternative. According to Breland-Noble, “precise questions provide less potential for misinterpretation.” This question is a little more specific. In Breland-view, Noble’s this inquiry also “demonstrates unconditional regard,” which might be crucial when it comes to supporting and conversing with someone who is experiencing anxiety. And with that…
Show concern and care. According to Breland-Noble, sayings like “I love you and I want to support you as best I can” and “I love you and I don’t want to see you hurt” both express your undying devotion to your partner. This provides individuals with suitable support that is unrelated to their anxiety experiences or anxiety management skills.
To put it another way, reassuring your loved one that you are there for them and that you have seen a shift in their behavior. In essence, you’re demonstrating to the other that their sentiments are important. According to Bacow, anxiety may be stressful and lonely, so when a loved one offers support, it can be relieving and help the individual feel noticed and cared for. They may therefore feel more at ease speaking up and even seeking treatment as a result. (Related: Topics to Discuss in Therapy)
Furthermore, studies have demonstrated a favorable correlation between decreased mortality , 20 percent of Americans 0, 20 percent of Americans 1 (think: anxiety, depression), as well as 20 percent of Americans 2, among other outcomes.
VERIFY THEIR EMOTIONS AND EXPERIENCES. Consider talking about your own experiences with anxiety even though you do not want to make the topic about yourself, advises Bacow. The idea is to indicate to the person that their emotion is normal and that they are not alone by saying something like, “I’ve been there” or “I understand you; it must be so incredibly difficult or frustrating,” she says. “Validation” means “reflecting back to the person’s emotions and making them feel heard, which fosters emotion control and immediately calms the nervous system, which is extremely crucial when it comes to anxiety.”
You can reassure your loved one by saying things like, “It’s alright to not be okay,” “Be kind with yourself,” and “It’s okay to take pauses,” all of which are comforting without downplaying their suffering.
NOT TO SAY DON’T BE DISMISSIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS ANXIOUS. It is never a good idea, according to Dr. Green, to advise someone to “just get over it” or to slam them with a long list of “should-dos.” “Simply put, it is useless. In fact, this may be interpreted as a lack of sympathy and can make someone feel even more stressed and overwhelmed.”
Before you talk, think to yourself, “Is what I’m about to say going to be useful or potentially harmful?” to make sure you stay out of this position. Dr. Green advises that you should then adapt accordingly.
What other statements should you avoid? It’s not that bad, “calm down,” or “you have nothing to worry about.” According to neuroscientist 20 percent of Americans 3, each of these is completely invalidating and a sort of gaslighting. She says that invalidating someone’s experiences in this way might “make them feel guilty or ashamed for how they feel.” And while you should definitely steer clear of doing this at all costs, it is particularly important to remember this while dealing with someone who has anxiety. According to Breland-Noble, “those who are anxious frequently worry about being evaluated, and dismissive words make people feel as though their issues and concerns are being diminished (thus unfairly criticized).”
AVOID TALKING TOO MUCH ABOUT YOURSELF Sharing your own experiences with anxiety can frequently help validate and normalize your loved one’s struggles, as Bacow points out above. But according to Breland-Noble, “you should never presume that your feeling of worry is equal to the other person’s.” Of fact, “it” can help you develop empathy for other people, but your circumstances are not the same as those of other people.
Consider starting your points with a statement like, “I know that I cannot fully understand your personal experience of anxiety, but would you feel comfortable with me sharing how I experience it and what helps me to cope?” if you feel that using examples from your own mental health journey will help the conversation. introduces Breland-Noble. “You run the risk of presuming that your solutions are universal (they are not) when people are worried and when you presume your experiences are identical.”
TRY NOT TO “FIX” It’s critical to keep in mind that your purpose in being with this person is to love and support them, not to “fix” them. First off, you’re probably not a therapist and can’t really come up with solutions to the problems that your loved one is having. Furthermore, offering solutions may imply that the individual is “broken,” which is especially damaging to their already fragile self-esteem as a result of anxiety.
“You might feel compelled to attempt to make things better for other people, but frequently all they want is to be heard,” continues Bacow. Ask your loved one whether it’s alright if you must make a suggestion before you do so (for example, “Do you mind if I make a suggestion?”). And if they give you the okay, utilize the opportunity to discuss how talking to a professional may be a huge step toward feeling (and getting well) says she. Accessible and encouraging mental health resources for Black women are available.