It can be difficult and painful to watch a friend or loved one try to manage anxiety. It’s natural to want to help them, but there are a few common “dos and don’ts” you should know before you try to help someone in your life experiencing anxiety.

Helping to Manage Anxiety: The All-Important First Step

Before you dive into supporting anyone else, you need to make sure that you are in a solid position to help. If you yourself are suffering anxiety, stress, depression, or any other kind of health issue—mental or physical—then you need to consider carefully about how much of your time and mental energy you can commit to someone else’s wellbeing. You may realize that now is simply not the time to be committing to supporting or helping someone else—this does not make you selfish. The only way you can help someone you care about is by first being healthy and well yourself, and it may only increase your loved one’s anxiety if they see you putting yourself at risk or wearing yourself down to help them. 

Manage anxiety man and woman hugging support

The “Dos”

Okay, with that important first step out of the way, let’s talk about what you can do to help, if you are able to.

Be there

As simple as it sounds, being a reliable source of support for someone struggling with anxiety can be a huge help. Being someone that consistently shows up to support can help make them feel they are not alone in managing their anxiety or stress, and that they can overcome what they are facing. It couldn’t be any simpler—all you need to do is show up when asked, check in regularly, and be that reliable person in their life. Being there for your loved one to listen and provide support can make all the difference.

Ask them 

The friend or loved one you are helping may have a pretty good idea already of what they need, so you should ask them. Letting them lead the way in terms of how to address their anxiety will make them feel in control of the situation—after all, it is their barrier to overcome, and you are there to support them. If they don’t know what they need, don’t worry, and make sure that they know that it’s okay not to know, too. There are many, many ways of handling anxiety, and even if they don’t know how to address the problem right away, reassure them that together you can find a solution that works for them. 

Be patient

This may sound obvious, but patience is crucial. One, two, or even several conversations may not yield any progress, and that’s okay. It can take time to work through anxiety, and it won’t help your friend or loved one to feel they are being “pushed” to reach a finish line—in fact, it will likely only cause more anxiety. 

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The “Don’ts”

Just as it is important to show up for your loved one, ask them what they need, and be patient with them, it is equally important that you avoid a few common mistakes that are easy to make when trying to help someone manage and overcome their anxiety. While it may feel “natural” to do some of these things, you could end up doing more harm than good by following these instincts. 

Don’t fixate

When you are trying to help someone manage their anxiety, it’s easy to focus on that anxiety, however, this may do more harm than good. As you support them, don’t fixate on their anxiety—remind them instead of their many positive feelings, qualities, and interests. You can start a conversation about what you are each grateful for in your life, or hobbies you’d both like to take up again, or a shared or new interest. Reminding this person that they are more than their anxiety, and that it doesn’t need to dominate them, can be a positive step, while focusing too greatly on their anxiety can keep them in a negative space.

Don’t problem solve

Another natural reaction while helping someone manage persistent anxiety is to try to “solve” the problems that are causing their anxiety—this is a major “don’t”! Trying to rationalize them out of their anxiety won’t work, rather it is more likely to increase their feelings of anxiety as they may feel pushed beyond their comfort zone or feel pressure to no longer feel how they do feel. Recognize that anxiety isn’t a rational feeling, and don’t try to push your friend of loved ones, even toward seemingly logical solutions, may only increase their anxiety.

Don’t take on too much

This echoes our opening caveat, but it is crucial, and therefore worth reiterating. Don’t take on more than you can handle! If you are not in a position to support your friend of loved one, then you are not doing yourself or them any favors by taking on a support role. Be open and honest with them if they reach out to you, bring on additional supporters to help you support your friend (as long as they are comfortable with this), and consider suggesting they seek out therapy for anxiety, through online counseling, a community mental health center, or other local services.

Seek additional support

Ask for help managing anxiety. Sign with word ask

As much as you may want to help, there are limits to how much you can do for your loved one. If you believe that they would benefit from professional counselling, you can gently suggest this to them, recommending that anxiety therapy or mindfulness therapy could help them manage their anxiety. A great way to help a loved one may be with the logistical aspects of seeking out help—offer to help them schedule an appointment, look into health care coverage, find free or affordable services in your area, or even reach out to organizations that can offer support. Helping them tackle these initial steps can make all the difference.

The Maria Droste Counseling Center is committed to providing counseling to Coloradans in need regardless of their ability to pay. If you are struggling with anxiety, please contact Maria Droste Counseling Center at 303-867-4600. If you are concerned about a loved one, we encourage you to provide them with our contact information, however, we can only enroll adults in our services when they have reached out to us directly.

Written by Chloe Heskett

Need Help?

If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.

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