Anxiety August: Helping Others

The Last in the series, today is a little post of some ways in which you could try to help someone who suffers from anxiety. I want to stress that everyone with anxiety is completely different and needs different things, so some suggestions may work, others might not, but at the very least it might trigger you to think of other ways which would be more suited to your friend/relative.

  1. Don’t ignore trigger signs. If someones constantly cancelling plans and it’s out of character, it may be a sign that their struggling. Of course they may genuinely have to cancel for a valid reason, but it may also be something more. Anxiety suffers often don’t notice a change in themselves, are in denial that they need help or scared and don’t know what to do about it. You may be the first person who asks if they really do mean it when they say their fine. There’s nothing worse than dealing with it on your own.
  2. Accept it. Whilst it may take years for your friend/relative to accept that anxiety is apart of their personality, you will also need to be accepting. Depending on how severe the anxiety, treatment is a long-term thing with the chance of relapses. Whilst it’s annoying when a friend will no longer travel to you, until they learn to manage their fear of public transport for example,  asking them to make an hour bus journey may be unrealistic and place a huge amount of pressure on them. Nobody with anxiety wants to feel or act like they do. You wouldn’t ask someone with a physical illness to do something that would aggravate their condition, so it’s unfair to do the same with mental illness.
  3. Don’t be too soft. Whilst you need to be accepting of the debilitating effects of anxiety, it’s not a free-for-all pas to behave the way you want. Similarly, my mum was at times strict with me, making me go out of the house more as I was slowly getting better. Left to my own devices, I probably would have avoided leaving the house despite it being part of my treatment plan. I would definitely recommend asking your friend/relative about their treatment plan and any way in which you can assist in making sure their able to do it. That might range from planning small trips out that very slowly extend their comfort zone, reminding them to practice their CBT exercise or even doing some techniques such as positive and negative lists each day with them. Sometimes people need a little support and push in the right direction.
  4. They’re still them They are still your friend. They are still your relative. Their just ill. If your unsure on how to support someone, start by just being a friend. Offer a shoulder to cry on or an ear for them to rant if they need it. Be there for the bad times as well as those days when you think that maybe their getting better. Anxiety can be the most isolating thing, making you feel alone even if your in a room full of people you know. Having someone consistently there on your side can make the world of difference.
  5. Bribes and goals Bribes work, and when people lack motivation they may be a good way to kick start treatment. If I managed to go a week without avoiding or cancelling plans due to anxiety, I got a small treat, whatever you can afford. That goal was then extended or upped a level. Ultimately I began to realize I could do something and it would be ok; my anxieties didn’t become a reality. Rewards for me were anything from a Christmas edition Starbucks to a new lipstick, but could include watching a film, their favorite meal, a Lush bath bomb or anything that person particularly enjoys and considers a treat. Of course I would advise avoiding things which are particularly addictive such as alcohol, drugs etc. as this can lead to a more serious health problem. Just remember to ween off the rewards, extending the period of time so they don’t become dependent. 
  6. Normality For me, it was so important to try and maintain a sense of normality. I was so scared by what was happening and felt like I was different and going crazy. As boring as it sounds, it’s important not to radically change someones lifestyle. Like I said, anxiety treatment is often a long-term thing, and although the symptoms can be debilitating, if someone is to successfully manage the condition, life can’t stop. Clearly this is completely dependent on the person and the severity, but any type of routine including tasks they would consider the usual may help you show them they can still function.
  7. You can only do so much It’s amazing that you want to support someone, but you shouldn’t take on something to such an extent which makes you ill too. It’s one thing to help someone keep positive and be a shoulder for them to cry on, it’s another for you to carry all their worries and your own by yourself. It’s impossible for you soley to help make someone cope with anxiety. You can help and support, but in the end it’s down to your friend/relative to manage it for themselves. If you start supporting someone with the intention of ‘curing’ them, you may end up traping yourself in a cycle of worry and disappointment. It’s as important you understand your limitations and maintain your own happiness. You can’t help anyone if you yourself are starting to suffer.

Have you got any ways that you think would help someone? Share them below!