15 Ways You Can Help Someone With Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorder can have a profound negative impact on those who experience it. It can also have a negative impact on loved ones and colleagues – people who are close to and/or work with someone who is experiencing anxiety disorder – such as a spouse, mate, partner, children, boy or girl friend, parents, grandparents, in-laws, relatives, friends, co-workers, and so on.
Even though anxiety disorder can take a heavy toll on the sufferer, loved ones and colleagues can be affected, as well, when anxiety disorder becomes established. These loved ones and colleagues are referred to as ‘affected others.’
Anxiety disorder sufferers can be affected physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Many find their lives dramatically impacted as a result. Even though there may not be any physical evidence of an illness, anxiety disorder can be fraught with distressing and debilitating sensations and symptoms, as well as cause severe lifestyle restriction and often what seems like insurmountable physical and mental health challenges. These challenges often leave the individual frightened, confused, frustrated, and at their wits end.
Anxiety disorder sufferers can experience many distressing sensations, symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and emotions as their bodies and minds are burdened with unhealthy anxiety. For a comprehensive list of common sensations and symptoms associated with anxiety disorder, see the Anxiety Symptoms section. If you are a member of our Recovery Support area, see the Symptoms chapter (Chapter 9).
People who experience anxiety disorder are generally intelligent, creative, compassionate, and determined. But they can easily become inward-focused, frightened, short-tempered, confused, discouraged, distant, uncaring, child-like, and seemingly hypochondriac once an anxiety disorder becomes established.
While anxiety disorder can be hard to understand from a non-sufferer’s perspective, it can be even harder to understand as a sufferer. While sufferers may look fine on the outside, they often experience a raging battle on the inside, and a battle that only someone who personally experiences anxiety disorder will fully understand.
Anxiety disorder can produce a wide range of physical, psychological, and emotional sensations and symptoms, which are not imagined, from a very few, to all of them. These sensations and symptoms can also come in episodes where they are nonexistent or slight one moment and then full on and overwhelming the next.
Anxiety disorder often impacts many systems, organs, and glands in the body, including the nervous system (which includes the brain), endocrine system, respiratory system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, and so on. In addition to the biological sensations and symptoms, most sufferers also experience distressing thoughts and emotions.
The severity of the condition generally determines the degree and frequency of sensations and symptoms. For example, those with milder forms of anxiety disorder may experience intermittent and erratic episodes of mild to moderate sensations and symptoms. Those with a more severe condition can experience persistent, entrenched, and debilitating sensations and symptoms. Some anxiety disorder sufferers experience their condition as an ebb and flow, while others may experience it as a constant nightmare filled with fear, persistent symptoms, bizarre thinking, and erratic emotions.
Most sufferers don’t want to be sick and would give anything to feel normal again. But because of the nature of anxiety disorder, they often feel trapped in a battle with confusion, fear, and despair, and with seemingly no way out.
Anxiety disorder is a real condition that can affect a person on many levels. Their struggle is real!
Most anxiety disorder sufferers don’t want to have issues with anxiety. They are not doing it for attention. They would rather feel normal and live a normal life than have to deal with anxiety issues.
Most anxiety disorder sufferers would like to feel normal again, and just as fast as affected others would prefer. But overcoming anxiety disorder is a process that takes time, and often much more time than most people expect.
So during the recovery process, there are a number of things we can do to help the sufferer overcome his or her struggle with problematic anxiety.
15 Ways To Help Someone With Anxiety Disorder:
If you are an affected other, your help can play an important role in an anxiety disorder sufferer’s recovery. Here are 15 ways you can help:
1. Anxiety disorder doesn’t mean the person is mentally inferior or deficient. So don’t view them as such.
Issues with anxiety are caused by overly apprehensive behavior, which are learned ways of coping with life. Behaviors are learned during our formative years (generally considered to be from birth to age 8 or so). Most anxiety disorder sufferers learned their overly apprehensive behavior directly or indirectly from a parent(s) or those who raised them and/or greatly influenced them when growing up.
In an online poll we conducted, 93 percent of respondents said they had a parent or parents who worried a lot.
So it’s not that anxiety disorder sufferers deliberately chose to adopt overly apprehensive behavior as a way of coping with life, but that they adopted that style of behavior thinking it was normal. Most are greatly surprised to find out they have issues with anxiety when anxiety begins to cause problems in their lives.
In order to overcome anxiety disorder, anxiety disorder sufferers need to learn healthy ways of coping with life, which then eliminates issues with anxiety. To that end, overcoming anxiety disorder requires getting the right information, help, and support.
Rather than believing anxiety disorder sufferers are trapped in a condition they can’t do anything about, know that with the right information, help, and support, they can overcome a struggle with anxiety disorder…and for good.
While the road to lasting recovery generally isn’t easy or quick, lasting success can be attained through effort and perseverance. Therefore, there is no reason to feel sorry for the person who struggles with anxiety disorder. Offer empathy and support rather than sympathy.
2. Anxiety disorder isn’t something a person can “just snap out of.” Because anxiety is caused by behavior, it takes the right information, help, support and hard work to overcome issues with anxiety. There are NO shortcuts or “quick fix cures” once anxiety disorder has become established.
While self-help information can be beneficial, often full and lasting recovery requires the assistance and support of an experienced anxiety disorder coach/counsellor/therapist. So it’s unrealistic to think a person can just snap themselves out of a struggle with anxiety disorder.
With this understanding, you can be more supportive and help the person get the help he needs. And then, support him as he works through to lasting success.
3. Reassure her that she’s going to be okay. Anxiety can create one of the strongest responses the body can experience. This strong response can create intense emotions, feelings, sensations, and symptoms. This is why in the midst of high anxiety, a person can feel like she is going to lose her mind, have a complete breakdown, or die.
Fortunately, even though anxiety can feel powerful, it alone is not dangerous and doesn’t lead to a mental collapse, breakdown, or death. Once the person calms down, all of these strong emotions, feelings, sensations, and symptoms diminish and eventually disappear.
So when a person is having an episode of high anxiety, reassuring her she’s going to be okay can help her calm down, which will lead to the cessation of the strong feelings of anxiety.
4. Stay calm, and help him to calm down. Anxiety disorder is predicated on fear. This fear can be rational or irrational. Fear activates the stress response, which can cause a number of physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body. These changes can produce some profound anxiety sensations and symptoms. Often it’s these sensations and symptoms that anxiety disorder sufferers react to with more fear.
Regardless of whether the fear is rational or irrational, or whether the sensations and symptoms are strong, we can always find ways of calming ourselves so that the body shuts off the stress response, which leads to feeling better.
If your loved one or colleague is struggling with an episode of anxiety, encourage him to calm down and settle himself. As he calms down, he will feel better…but in time. It can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from an activated stress response.
Remaining calm yourself can provide an example for him. Encouraging him to calm down can also help himself calm down. Keeping calm is one of the ‘silver bullets’ for anxiety.
5. Encourage her to do something about her anxiety condition. Being empathetic and supportive is helpful. But if she isn’t working at overcoming anxiety disorder, your empathy and support may only enable her to remain stuck.
Anxiety disorder is only resolves when a person works at it. Anxiety disorder seldom resolves on its own.
So be an encourager, not an enabler. Encourage your loved one to seek the necessary help. And then, encourage and support her as she works at making healthy behavioral change.
6. Encourage him to seek professional help. Anxiety disorder is caused by unhealthy behavior. While self-help information can be beneficial, a professional anxiety disorder counsellor/therapist is almost always required to overcome problematic anxiety because many of these behaviors are invisible, and therefore, unknown to the sufferer. Unless the sufferer is professionally trained in anxiety disorder resolution, it’s unrealistic to think he would be able to identify, successfully address, and help himself back to lasting anxiety disorder-free health (if he knew what to do, he wouldn’t be struggling with anxiety issues).
For more information about why anxiety counselling/therapy is important, see our “Two Levels of Anxiety Disorder Recovery.”
NOTE: We don’t recommend seeking the assistance of a psychiatrist, as it is our experience that many psychiatrists approach anxiety disorder inappropriately. Too often it has taken clients longer to overcome anxiety disorder because of the poor treatment they received from a well-intentioned psychiatrist.
Click the following link for more information about the best type of help for anxiety disorder.
7. Support her in her decision to seek counselling/therapy. Traditionally, society has had a dim view of counselling/therapy. Fortunately, this view is changing…and quickly. More people today are seeking professional help for psychological and emotional challenges than ever before. That’s generally because the negative stigma associated with seeking professional help is diminishing, as well as, more and more people are seeing the benefits of counselling/therapy.
Moreover, professional counselling/therapy skillsets are improving as independent research on their effectiveness improves (not to mention that independent research is disproving long-held notions of chemical and biological causes of behavioral issues).
For example, independent research led to disproving the ‘chemical imbalance’ cause of anxiety, and has supported the effectiveness of counselling/therapy. Because of the recent strides in research and resulting techniques, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is now recognized as the ‘gold standard’ for anxiety disorder resolution.
If your loved one wants to pursue counselling/therapy for her anxiety disorder, encourage her to proceed and support her as she continues. Overcoming anxiety disorder takes time and effort, and as a result, can be discouraging. Encouraging her to continue can help her work through times of discouragement. Lasting success occurs for those who persevere.
You can also ask her to share with you what is being talked about. Oftentimes, reflecting on counselling/therapy sessions is a great way to internalize new information. If she doesn’t want to be specific about private details, that’s fine. There can still be a lot to reflect on in general terms, which can still be helpful.
8. Be available. Let your loved one know he can talk with you anytime and without fear of judgment. Also let him know that you aren’t going to change the way you think of him because he is dealing with anxiety issues. You are there to support him in whichever way he believes he needs. Letting him know he can count on you can make a positive difference in his recovery.
9. Be patient. Anxiety disorder sufferers can sound like a broken record – rehashing the same topics and fears over and over again. While you might understand the nature of their struggle and see it clearly, the sufferer doesn’t. He’s rehashing the same issues because he has established a fear about them. His rehashing is his way of trying to come to terms with his fears.
During times like these, listen and reassure patiently. Over time, the on going reinforcement can be helpful in extinguishing long-held fears. Again, be patient. He will get there in time.
10. Learn everything you can about anxiety disorder, then help her by providing ongoing information, support, and reassurance. They say that knowledge is power. This is particularly true with anxiety disorder. If you want to help an anxiety disorder sufferer, become an expert on the condition. The more you know about anxiety disorder, the better help you can be.
If you are truly interested in learning about anxiety disorder, we have many public pages that provide an overview of anxiety disorder. A good place to start is the Anxiety 101 section and our Anxiety Symptoms section. Better yet, become a Recovery Support member and learn the complete details of anxiety disorder, how it affects the body, and what can be done to overcome it for good.
Oftentimes, anxiety disorder sufferers can become so mired in their struggle that they have difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. A knowledgeable support person can help them find their way and reassure them that everything is going to be okay.
Ongoing guidance and reassurance can play a pivotal role in recovery, especially with anxiety disorder recovery.
11. Empathize, don’t patronize. Try to be as supportive, loving, and empathetic as you can. Sufferers typically feel bad enough about what is going on in their life. They don’t want your sympathy, but do appreciate your understanding, compassion, and the necessary time to get their condition under control.
12. Celebrate the small victories along the way to lasting success. Overcoming anxiety disorder takes work…and often a lot of work. On the way to lasting success, there are often a great many little steps and victories. Celebrate them. Make a big deal about them. Doing so can be very encouraging to the sufferer.
For example, attending the first counselling/therapy session is a victory in itself. Experiencing ‘eureka’ and ‘ah ha’ moments are also other reasons to celebrate. Staying the course with counselling/therapy is another. Overcoming a long-held fear is another. And so on.
Overcoming anxiety disorder is a process that unfolds in many little steps. Since progress is often slow, it can be discouraging along the way. Celebrating and making a big deal about each victory along the way can help the person remain encouraged, which can also keep the person working the process.
People who don’t succeed do so not because they can’t succeed, but because they give up before meaningful progress is made.
13. Affirm him. Encourage him. Help him to feel better about himself. Low self-esteem is often associated with a struggle with anxiety. Your encouragement can help him see himself more positively.
14. If depression is involved, take suicidal comments seriously. Call for emergency help if you believe the person is serious about taking his or her own life. It’s best to err on the side of safety.
15. Above all, continually offer hope! Anyone can overcome anxiety disorder with the right information, help, and support. So freedom from problematic anxiety is attainable, even though it can be a lot of work. Your continued reassurance can help him or her get through the drudge of recovery. Once he or she has recovered, you’ll recognize the true value of the hope you provided.
As we mentioned, there aren’t any ‘miracle’ or ‘quick-fix’ cures for anxiety disorder. Overcoming it requires getting the right information, help, and support, and then doing the work required. But success is attainable for anyone willing to do the work.
Your help in this process can make a significant difference, especially when you know how to help. The above tips help you help your loved one.
For 35 additional tips, members can read the “How To Help Someone Who Is Experiencing Anxiety Disorder” section in Chapter 14 in the Recovery Support area.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - we call these core causes the underlying factors of anxiety - a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
Return to our anxiety tips page.
Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated September 2016.