It’s completely normal to feel a bit overwhelmed when trying to be there for someone during a tough time. We all want to say the right thing, but knowing what that is can be hard in the moment. And while you can always start by offering advice on how you manage your own anxiety, no one experiences anxiety in the same way.
We’ve highlighted a few easy-to-remember ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ when providing support to your friends or family experiencing anxiety.
Do – Learn to recognise the signs
Recognising when someone else needs help is a great first step to giving them a hand with their anxiety.
It’s important to remember that unlike physical injury, anxiety can’t always be seen. While there are some common signs of anxiety to look for, a good way to spot it in someone else is to take note of changes in their normal behaviour. This could include:
- avoiding people or places
- being visibly annoyed, irritated or restless
- having trouble concentrating
- complaining about lack of sleep.
Do – Open up the lines of communication
Just starting a conversation and asking ‘are you ok?’ or ‘can I help?’ is a good first step.
By letting your friend or family member know you're there to support them, you’ve already taken a major burden away from them – the worry of being completely alone.
Do – Make them feel comfortable
When we’re feeling upset or down, feeling good can help get us on the road to recovery. It’s the same when you’re helping someone through anxiety. By making them feel comfortable, you’re helping them feel their best and recover quicker.
Is your friend a big fan of talking it out? Check in with them regularly to help them get things off their chest.
If they’re not a fan of deep and meaningful chats, spend more time with them doing something you both enjoy, like listening to music, going for a walk or watching a movie. When we’re around others doing something we love, we’re less likely to dwell on the things that are nagging at us – like our anxiety.
Do – Celebrate the wins (no matter how small)
Anxiety can freeze you up and make it hard to do anything. When you’re helping someone through a tough time, remember to celebrate the good times.
If they had a great win playing their favourite sport, congratulate them. Did they nail their answers on an important exam? Let them know you’re proud of them.
By bringing the focus back to the positives and not the negatives, you’re helping them bring out the best parts of themselves.
All about feeling anxious
Anxiety is so common, chances are that if you’re not struggling with it, someone you know or love probably is. It becomes a problem when it gets in the way of everyday life.
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Don’t – Focus on the anxiety
Living with constant anxiety can feel like being in a black cloud. While you may want to show someone that you care about them, always asking about their anxiety can spark a negative thought pattern in their head.
This can be a hard balance to strike, especially when you can see the other person struggling. Instead of forcing the subject, let the other person come to you – this can be as easy as letting them know you’re there for them, not matter what.
Don’t – Lose focus on your own health
When helping someone else with their mental health, you’re less likely to lose focus on your own wellbeing.
Make sure you’re keeping an eye on your own stress and anxiety, especially when helping someone else through theirs. Happiness is contagious – the healthier and calmer you are, the more those around you will feel the benefits as well.
Don’t – Expect massive changes overnight
Mental health is a lifelong journey. And it will have ups and downs.
Someone going through anxiety is on their own personal journey. Sometimes you’ll notice they’ll take two steps forward to recovery, followed by a big backward step. Be patient, be happy for the good days and know that with support and care, anxiety can get better.
If you’re worried about someone, one of the best things you can do is encourage them to seek out extra support. Help them to reach out to their local headspace centre today.