Help And Support For Family And Friends With Anxiety Disorder

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 20, 2021

Anxiety, stress, depression, and sleep disorders can have a profound negative impact on those who experience them. Individuals who struggle with one or many of these disorders can be affected physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Many find their lives are dramatically impaired as a result. Even though there may not be any physical evidence of an illness, these conditions can be frightening, confusing, frustrating, and very debilitating for the sufferer.

Some of the internal symptoms of anxiety disorder include:

  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed or like they are going to pass out
  • Weak legs (often referred to as Rubber Legs)
  • Choking, feeling like there’s a lump or something stuck in their throat
  • Chest pain
  • An intense feeling of impending doom or fear
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Diminished short term memory
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Excessive or lack of energy
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Always on edge, or chronically grouchy
  • Depressed
  • Startle easily, jumpy, fidgety
  • Shooting pains in various parts of the body
  • Numbness in the limbs or face
  • Muscles are very tense, and sometimes to the point of pain
  • Nauseous

Some of the external symptoms can include:

  • Profuse sweating, hot and cold flashes
  • Trembling or shaking uncontrollably
  • Have to leave in a hurry
  • Frightened, terrified
  • Uncontrollable muscle twitching
  • Extremity tingling
  • Shortness of breath, rapid and shallow breathing
  • Nervous
  • Increased heart rate, palpitations
  • Frequently having to go to the washroom
  • Can’t relax
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Jolting awake
  • Insomnia, sleep problems
  • A constant craving for sweets, chocolate
  • Constantly angry, irritable, impatient
  • Can’t take too much pressure
  • Blushing
  • Afraid of confined spaces
  • Excessively focused on their symptoms and how they are feeling
  • Feeling like they will lose their mind
  • Panicky

For a more comprehensive list of common symptoms, see the Anxiety Symptoms section in the public pages. For an expanded list, complete with descriptions and reasons for many of the more common symptoms, see the "All About Symptoms" section in the Recovery Support area.

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Those who experience these conditions are generally intelligent, creative, passionate, caring, and excitable people. They can, however, become inward-focused, frightened, short-tempered, confused, discouraged, distant, uncaring, and seemingly like a hypochondriac once any of these disorders become established.

These conditions can be hard to understand from a non-sufferer’s point of view, and they are even harder to understand as a sufferer. While sufferers may look okay on the outside, it’s often a raging battle on the inside.

The physical symptoms are very real because of the biochemical change that affects the brain, nervous system, endocrine system and a wide range of other systems in the body. This biological change produces an out-of-balance body chemistry, which is the reason for the many symptoms anxiety disorder sufferers experience.

The biological change also affects the individual’s thoughts and emotions, since both are influenced by the brain, nervous system and endocrine system.

The severity of the condition will determine the degree and frequency of symptoms. For those who experience intermittent episodes of their disorder(s), their symptoms may come and go with the degree of stress in their lives, since stress is a major contributor and aggravator of anxiety, stress, depression, and sleep disorder.

Those with a persistent condition, however, their symptoms may become entrenched and vary from moment to moment.

For those interested in getting a more in-depth look at these disorders, the information in the member’s area will be very helpful to you.

As a family member or friend of someone who is experiencing one or any of these disorders, here are a few ways you can help them:

  • Don't criticize them for feeling poorly. Their condition isn't something they can 'just snap out of.' It takes the right information and hard work in order to recover and live a normal life again. There are NO shortcuts or 'quick fix cures' once these conditions become entrenched. While self-help information can be very helpful, often full and lasting recovery requires the assistance and support of an experienced anxiety coach, counselor, or therapist.
  • Be patient with them. While the condition may appear obvious, the internal reality of it is much different and harder to turn around. It takes the right information and applied effort to return to normal health. It also takes an abundance of time...more than one would expect. This is because once the body becomes overstimulated, it takes a very long time for it to return to its normal health. Patience is required…and often much more than you think.
  • Remove as much stress and pressure as you can. Stress and pressure will aggravate their condition. Rest and calm will help to sooth and heal it. This is especially important during the recovery process. Once they return to normal health, they will be once again able to handle the normal stresses of daily life.

For an expanded list of ways to help, see our "15 Ways to Help Someone With Anxiety Disorder" page.

Recovery Support members can read the section, "For Family and Friends" in Chapter 14, which contains 50 ways to help.

Yes, for someone who hasn’t experienced one (or any) of these conditions first-hand, it’s difficult (even frustrating) to understand what a sufferer goes through. But, you can play an important role in their recovery by being patient with them, by learning as much as you can about their condition, and by helping your loved one to recover through encouragement.

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 – which we call 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.

Additional Resources

Visit our anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms article. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms.