Anxiety is something that we all feel from time to time, but for some people it’s something which affects almost everything they do. It can take many forms but most forms leave sufferers managing fear and panic every day. If you’re the partner, friend or parent of someone who struggles with anxiety daily, there are a few things you need to remember:
1. They feel like they could die from anxiety
Having a panic attack literally feels like it could kill you. Your heart is beating like crazy, you’re sweating, you feel like you might vomit or pass out. You feel like you’ll die right here right now – in fact you kind of wish you would because nothing could feel worse than this.
2. They need you to be patient
It can be hard but when you’re not patient, it just adds to their anxiety and makes things a whole lot worse.
3. They need you to be kind to them – which means being kind to yourself too
Being kind goes with being patient, but it’s not easy to be constantly kind to someone who is struggling with anxiety, no matter how much you love them. You can use up your kind-reserves pretty quickly so it’s important that you nurture yourself too.
4. They know it doesn’t make sense
It’s irrational. They get that. Knowing that doesn’t make it go away. They can’t help it. Sometimes they worry about how irrational it is… and it fuels their anxiety further. Pointing out that their fear and anxiety is irrational is utterly, utterly unhelpful.
5. They don’t expect you to understand
Nine times out of ten, they don’t understand it, so there’s no way they’d expect you to – but they really like it when you try.
6. They don’t think like you
…and that’s okay. They overthink things and worry about the little things as well as the big things. That can be frustrating, but it can also be the thing that makes them brilliant. Their attention to detail and excellent risk assessment skills can be a valuable asset when they’re not causing issues.
7. They like it when you help them find anxiety lifehacks
Think with them about little things that might help. What can they alter or avoid? Help them research things that have helped other people – finding practical ways to make each day a little easier will make both of you feel better.
8. They hate being talked down to
They’re anxious. They’re not an idiot. Don’t talk down to them – treat them like the human being they are, all the time, even during their most difficult moments. Be kind, always; be belittling, never.
9. They are on constant sensory overload
It’s tiring being an anxious person because you’re constantly in a sense of hyper-alertness. You’re on the look out for danger, you’re over analysing everything that’s just happened, everything that’s about to happen, everything that’s happened ever…
10. They will panic less if you stop asking them if they’re panicking
Out of love, we often ask ‘are you okay?’ – but this isn’t helpful at all. If they’re having an okay moment, nothing’s more likely to rain on that parade than being asked whether they’re okay, which makes them think about it, which might make them realise all the different reasons they might not be okay. Or they might worry about why you’re asking.
11. They panic more when you panic
Watching someone having a severe anxiety episode or panic attack can be pretty scary and cause us to panic ourselves – especially when the person in question is someone we care deeply about. However, our panic will fuel their panic so it’s important that we remain outwardly calm and in control – if you need to, you can scream in your head, but only if your poker face is good.
14. They don’t mean it when they snap at you
Their head is full of really difficult stuff most of the time. When they’re short with you, it’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s hard to be nice and calm and sweet when your thoughts are in constant turmoil.
15. They know they’re not the best company
They fully understand that they can be unreasonable and unreliable. They know that it’s inconvenient and frustrating for the people that love them. They beat themselves up about it, constantly. Don’t make them feel worse by reminding them. They don’t need reminding.
16. They can live a normal life
There’s not a lot that a person struggling with anxiety can’t do. It might take more planning than for other people, but most things are possible. They don’t need to be handheld and mollycoddled every day of their lives.
17. They like it when you trust them to challenge themselves
It can be good for people struggling with anxiety to test their limits and try something new. It’s one of the best ways of stopping anxiety from encroaching further and further on their lives and can help them regain a little control. But it’s hard for us to let go and let our loved ones fly when we know how hard they might find it. Instead of finding reasons why it’s a bad idea for them to challenge themselves, think of practical ways to make it more manageable, they’ll love you for it.
18. They can tell you how to help them – but not at the moment they need that help
There are lots of practical ways that you can help someone struggling with anxiety, but you need to explore them during calmer moments. They absolutely cannot tell you how to help them to calm down as their world is crumbling around them whilst they’re tossed in a sea of panic. After an anxiety incident, reflect on how you could be more help next time – what was good and what was less good about how you tried to help this time. Explore these questions during quieter, calmer moments and both of you will feel more able to manage the next incident.
19. They can find comfort in strange things
Sometimes strange things will help them. It doesn’t matter what brings them comfort, it will always be welcome, no matter how kooky. So if you’ve noticed that your girlfriend seems calmer after she’s been dancing it he rain, get your wellies on. If your brother is less anxious when his books are in colour and height order, get sorting.
20. They might need your help spotting the things that bring them comfort
Sometimes it’s easier to spot this stuff when we’re looking in from the outside. We might observe them physically calm in certain situations – it might be in response to certain people, smells, places, music etc. If you notice that something seems to help reduce their anxiety you should never hesitate to point it out and see if it can help again another time.
21. They hurt
Anxiety physically hurts. Whether it’s the heart-attack type feeling of a panic attack or the aching muscles caused by over-tensing for too long or stomach-aches and headaches it hurts.
22. They need to be listened to, not talked at
Being allowed to talk and feeling heard is hugely helpful. It raises their self-esteem and helps them to explore the things that both cause and reduce their anxiety. Being lectured on the other hand, is unhelpful. You are more helpful when you help them to talk rather than when you do all the talking. Ask open-ended questions and never be afraid of silence… whilst you can hear nothing there is often a cacophony of noise happening in their head whilst they get their thoughts straight.
23. They love you too
They know they’re hard to live with, they know that you go to great lengths to support them and they really do appreciate it. They may not always be the best at showing it but they really do love you too.