How to Help Someone Experiencing Anxiety
As an estimated 40 million Americans are painfully aware, anxiety is a real, devastating disorder, one that can dramatically and negatively impact their lives. Unfortunately, the loved ones of someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder know that these challenges can leave them feeling helpless, unable to assist the person that they care about in combating a very damaging illness. Thankfully, there are many ways that a person can help someone who is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
What Is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is defined as anxiety that grows worse over time and is more than just the occasional challenge or normal reaction to everyday circumstances. It is anxiety — or fear of anxiety — that interferes with everyday life, causes needless pain, and ultimately sucks the enjoyment out of living. Anxiety disorders do more than just annoy; they also make it harder to work, enjoy our relationships with loved ones, or function in society.
What Are Some Types of Anxiety Disorders?
It is important to realize that “anxiety” is a wide-ranging term that means so much more than someone who feels afraid of a particular situation. Indeed, there is a range of anxiety disorders. These include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorders are among the most common anxiety disorders. They are characterized by relatively constant anxiety or stress that seems to exist for no reason at all and has no specific trigger. Symptoms include constant fear or worry, extreme irritability, fatigue, physical aches and pain, and challenges with sleep. It can best be described as constant free-floating anxiety that seems to exist without a cause or trigger.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by a constant compulsion to engage in certain types of behavior, such as touching things, cleaning, or other rituals. The need to perform these rituals is driven by a fear that something “bad” will happen if they are not performed, and not performing them can lead to extreme increases in anxiety.
Panic disorders are relatively common as well, and they are characterized by panic or anxiety attacks. A panic attack is a terrifying experience in which someone cannot control their levels of anxiety. They cause massive spikes in fear and a variety of physical symptoms, such as chest pain, upset stomach, sweating, and more. They can be triggered by specific circumstances or occur out of absolutely nowhere. Panic disorders not only lead to panic attacks but can also lead to a fear of panic attacks. This, in turn, can result in someone spending more time in their home and becoming agoraphobic, meaning that they do not leave their home or engage in social situations.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is what occurs after a traumatic incident, such as a violent attack, robbery, or sexual assault. An individual can have trouble processing the traumatic experience that they have endured, resulting in uncontrolled anxiety and flashbacks. PTSD is also very common among members of the military.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is anxiety or self-consciousness that is experienced when someone is in a regular social situation, including attending school or work. It can come from an extreme fear of being judged or laughed at in an everyday situation. While most people experience some level of social anxiety, this fear becomes so paralyzing that it can make it difficult to do anything in any public situation.
How Can You Help Someone Who Is Suffering From an Anxiety Disorder?
Watching a friend experience an anxiety disorder is a terrifying experience, as you will likely feel completely paralyzed in terms of your ability to help them. There is little worse than watching a friend experience anxiety and not being sure what to do. Thankfully, there are things that you can do.
Recognize When Your Friend Is in Trouble
It’s important to remember that if your friend is experiencing an anxiety attack, they may not be willing — or able — to talk about it. Anxiety can take over someone’s brain in a funny way and make help-seeking behaviors difficult to engage in. As such, you should try to recognize when your friend is having anxiety issues. There are a variety of symptoms that can demonstrate when someone is having an anxiety attack, and these symptoms may manifest themselves in ways that are physical, emotional, or cognitive. Make sure to recognize these symptoms so you can tell when your friend is in pain.
Ask If They Need Help
For someone with anxiety, the most important thing you can do is ask if you can help them. Some people prefer to be left alone, processing the anxiety by themselves. Others rely on and need the support of others. The best thing that you can do is learn how you can help your friend. Ask them what sort of support they need and how you can be of assistance to them. Find out their style of coping, and learn how you can be of assistance.
Have a Conversation When They Aren’t Anxious
When someone is anxious, they may have a difficult time processing thoughts and emotions. They may be unable to determine how they even want to help themselves. As such, if your friend or loved one is experiencing anxiety troubles, talk to them beforehand. Find out what works best for them and how they want your help in moments where they are thinking clearly and calmly. This way, you can have a rational and unemotional conversation about the best way to help your friend.
Sometimes, there is nothing you can do. There are no words you can say and there is no way of getting through to your friend. All you can do in these instances is be there for them and lend a non-judgmental ear. Be present and supportive. Tell them you love them and care for them. This may, quite literally, be the only thing you can do. It may also be enough.
Help Them Get Professional Help
All of us have to recognize our own limitations, and, more often than not, the most important thing you can do for someone is help them get the help that they need. As such, when your friend is not in a moment of extreme anxiety, try to have a longer conversation with them about the importance of getting help and work with them to make sure that they can find the help they need.
What Are Some Treatments for Someone Experiencing Anxiety?
Anxiety has been a diagnosable condition for many years, and there has been no shortage of potential treatments to deal with this debilitating condition. Thankfully, while the number of treatment options can seem overwhelming, there are also a variety of potential sources to find help. This includes the National Mental Health Hotline, which can be reached at 866-903-3787. Other resources include:
There are many different types of medications for anxiety, and this area has evolved significantly in recent years, producing more effective drugs that can stop short-term anxiety attacks in their tracks and provide for long-term assistance. These medications include benzodiazepines, which can be used as short-term tranquilizers, or SSRIs, which can alter the neurochemistry of someone’s brain and help to reduce anxiety attacks.
Anxiety disorders have proven to be very receptive to talk therapy. This is great news for anxiety sufferers, as it demonstrates that they can learn skills and other productive coping mechanisms that can help them reduce their anxiety difficulties. Types of therapy include:
• Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people learn different ways of thinking and responding to anxiety-inducing stimuli. CBT can almost be described as cognitive skill-building in that it teaches people more productive ways to think and react.
• Systematic desensitization, which allows someone to slowly, piece by piece, challenge themselves in anxiety-inducing behaviors. This can be very useful for OCD, agoraphobia, or other anxiety-inducing situations.
In many cases, a person can reduce their anxiety by changing certain aspects of their lifestyle. When done in complement with other techniques — such as medication or therapy — lifestyle changes can produce real, profound changes. Examples include:
• Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation
• Nutritional improvements, with a particular emphasis on reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption
• Relationship adjustments or family therapy
It is important to remember that you are not a trained professional therapist. Your goal cannot be to remove your friend’s anxiety and to cure them of what is wrong; only they can do that in consultation with a trained professional.
However, if you want to help but aren’t sure where to turn, remember that there are resources available to help you help your loved one get the help they need. The National Mental Health Hotline is one such resource, and calling this number can ensure that you are aware of the latest treatment options. The National Mental Health Hotline can help you find the help you need for your friend or family member. Don’t wait — call today at 866-903-3787.