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How to help a loved one suffering with anxiety

It can be incredibly hard when someone you love is struggling with their mental health. Faith Richardson offers some practical advice and top tips on how you can be as supportive as possible...

Written by High Life North
Published 10.01.2020

By Faith Richardson

It can be incredibly hard when someone you love is struggling with their mental health. All you want to do is help them, but it can often feel like nothing you say or do is working, or is even making things worse.

Don’t be too hard on yourself – the fact you want to help at all won’t go unnoticed, and most people who suffer with anxiety or other mental health issues are aware that it can be tricky for their loved ones to understand and be able to help, after all; most of the time they don’t fully understand it or know exactly how to help themselves.

However, it can also feel super stressful and isolating to be going through something that the people around you don’t understand and can’t empathise with. Try to remember that anxiety can have no direct cause at all – anxiety can be the cause of many of their worries, rather than their worries causing the anxiety, which is something that is easily forgotten or confused.

So what are some dos and don’ts when it comes to helping someone with anxiety?

Listen, listen, listen

Firstly, just listen. Listening is the best way to try and get a better understanding of what’s going on. No one’s anxiety is the same, and what is hard for one person might not be an issue for others. Listen to what they’re finding the hardest to cope with. It might be practical things, like driving, cleaning or exercising. It might be more emotional things, such as feeling unable or useless at work, thinking they’re a failure or not being able to manage their emotions very well, or it could be that they’re stressing about a vicious circle of different things with each on impacting the others.

Try to listen to all the things that they feel are causing, or exacerbating their anxiety. Maybe write a list so you can work together to think of some practical ways that can help. Feeling like someone is taking them seriously and working on real, doable solutions is always greatly appreciated, as often people struggling with their mental health can find it hard to think or a rational or reasonable solution.

Provide physical help

Sometimes the smallest gestures can have the biggest impact. If you know they’re struggling with housework while they’re coping during a bad time, showing up with some rubber gloves and helping them to tackle their chores can make the world of difference – it takes one less issue off their plate and allows them space to feel like they can focus on other problems.

Similarly, offering to drive them to places, help them do a food shop or suggesting you do a gym class together are invaluable ways of taking the responsibility off someone who is struggling, and allows them to get things done without having to summon the courage and energy to complete daily tasks, which can often make them feel like a failure if they don’t get them done.

Offer emotional support

When it’s emotional things weighing more heavily on them, it can seem much harder to offer help. Set aside time to ask how they’re feeling, and listen as often as they need you to. It can feel frustrating listening to someone circle around the same problems time and time again, especially when you can’t actually help them, however, feeling heard and as though someone cares enough to want to understand is utterly invaluable. Anxiety has a sneaky way of making you feel like you’re potentially crazy, that you’re failing, and everyone is sick of hearing you struggle with the same things time and time again. So please don’t tell someone that they’ve already told you that or the age-old; “Well what do you expect me to do about it? You have to fix it yourself”. THEY KNOW. They always know you can’t possibly fix their emotional struggles, they don’t want solutions, they just want support.

Don’t minimise issues

Most of the time, your loved one isn’t talking to you because they want you to miraculously come up with a solution or a quick fix for what’s bothering them – they want you to let them vocalise what’s troubling them, no matter how silly or insignificant it might seem. If you are able to offer a solution, try not to offer it like it’s simple or obvious. It might seem super easy for you to ring up and make a doctor’s appointment if you aren’t well, or fit in a workout if you’re not feeling your best, or do the ironing that’s been piling up when you have nothing to wear, but often someone with anxiety can feel utterly frozen by these things.

Minimising a task (no matter how trivial it might seem) makes someone who’s struggling feel like even more of a failure. “Just go to the gym, you’ll feel better for it”, “you just need to drive somewhere to get over your fear of it”, “you just need to speak to your boss” might seem like obvious solutions, but frankly, they know the solution is often straight forward; it’s the doing it that’s the hard part.

Anyone who suffers with anxiety is usually very, VERY aware that often their issues aren’t life or death and be solved with one or two straightforward tasks. However, the horrible reality of anxiety is that it really does freeze you in fear. It makes you feel incapable, it convinces you that you’re not good enough and it is adamant that you’re a massive burden to those around you. It zaps you of all your energy, your creativity and your drive, and leaves you feeling lethargic, useless and afraid to reach out and try to do anything. 

As long as you treat your loved one with patience and as much understanding as you can, it will go a long, long way to helping them. Offer practical help where you can, and emotional support as often as possible. Try to gently encourage them to reach out to their GP or therapist for help as soon as they feel ready – the earlier the better. However, as their best friend, partner or parent, ultimately they’re going to want to turn to you for support, and your love and compassion will go a long, long way.

Our top 5 tips on what to avoid saying, and what you could say instead:

Instead of “Get a grip”, try “What do you need help with?

Instead of “You just need to…”, try “Would you like me to…?

Instead of “You need therapy”, try “Would you like me to make you a doctor’s appointment?

Instead of “It’ll be fine”, try “I know it’s really hard right now, but together we can improve things.

Instead of “You don’t have it that bad, it could always be worse”, try “Let’s make a list of everything positive you have, and everything you feel like you need help with.

Herbal remedies that could help with anxiety and depression

We spoke to Lyfe Botanicals about the benefits of turmeric curcumin supplements to help stabilise boot and combat depression. 

If you or a loved one is dealing with anxiety or severe fluctuations in perceived quality of life, curcumin might be the supplement that helps.

Read more about the health benefits of tumeric curcumin here.

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