Chances are you or someone you know has an anxiety disorder since it is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting over eighteen percent of the population (reference). But do you know how to help that someone, or better yet tell others how to help you if you are the one who has the anxiety disorder?
Below are eight ways to help someone with an anxiety disorder.
- Be predictable. Don’t surprise them. If you say you are going to show up at a certain time, be on time. Don’t change plans at the last minute or bring an unplanned guest to dinner or take them on an impromptu date or a spur of the moment trip. People with anxiety need time to prepare mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, for most events. Give them that time and notification well in advance.
- Don’t assume you know what the person needs, ask them. How long do they need to prepare for events? Don’t guess. Ask them. When they are worried or stressed, don’t come up with solutions for them. Ask them what would help them at that moment or in general. If they don’t know then tell them you are there for them when they think of something, which brings us to number 3.
- Let the person with the disorder set the pace for recovery. Don’t pressure them to get well quicker than they are able to. Don’t expect fast fixes or for coping skills to work perfectly every time in every instance. Recovery is slow and messy. It is not a straight forward moving process. It is some steps forward and many back and some more forward and back again. Eventually the forward steps out number the backward ones, but it happens over time, not over night.
- Speaking of progress, it is best to find something positive in every attempt at progress. Meaning even if the attempt is unsuccessful that time, something positive should still be acknowledged about the attempt so as to encourage subsequent attempts in the future.
- Take care of yourself first. Don’t sacrifice your own life wants and needs too often. This will only lead to resentments later on. It will do neither of you any good if you both are ill.
- Don’t get emotional when the person with the disorder gets upset or panics. Keep a calm, cool demeanor, talk with a compassionate tone and when all else fails take a time out, telling the person you need to walk away for a moment to gather your thoughts, and come back when you can deal with him or her. If he or she is being irrational, sometimes it is impossible to rationalize with him. It is best just to validate his feelings (because feelings are not right or wrong, they just are) and keep him safe and see number 7.
- Encourage them to seek out therapy. You are not a professional. And even if you are, you cannot treat your own friend or family member objectively. Most people with anxiety disorders need some type of professional help.
- Finally never ridicule or criticize a person for being anxious or panicky. It is truly a physiological and psychological phenomenon beyond their conscious control in many instances that takes months, if not years, to figure out and overcome.
If you have any questions about anxiety disorders in general or panic disorders or complex PTSD, I have experience with all of them and would be glad to discuss. Leave a comment or contact me via my Facebook page here.