Lockdown has taken a huge toll on our mental health, with over 40% of people feeling the need for time off during the pandemic.
If a friend or family member is struggling with anxiety in particular, it can be hard to know how best to support them.
There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, from those based around social situations to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and PTSD.
Symptoms such as a fast heartbeat, nausea, and a sense of dread are common – but if you think you or someone you know is suffering with anxiety, you can see the full list on the Mind website.
So, what should you say to someone with anxiety, and how can you help?
What to say to someone with anxiety
Acknowledge their experience
It can be helpful to just acknowledge the experience, as indicating you’re there for someone with anxiety can help alleviate overthinking.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, a spokesperson for the charity No Panic says that ‘it is okay to say that you do not understand, or that you are unsure of what to say.
Try listening to their fears without judgement. Helpful things to ask might be:
- How are you?
- Do you want to talk about how you are feeling today?
- Is there anything I can do to help?
- I am here if you want to chat
- How you are feeling is not silly.
Emphasise the positives
People with anxiety might find themselves fixating on unpleasant experiences, so it can be helpful to emphasise events that contradict this instinct.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, a spokesperson from charity Anxiety UK says the tendency to remain focussed on negative points may result in an inaccurate and disempowering recollection of events – which in turn makes the anxiety worse.
They advise ‘finding something positive in every step that the person you are supporting takes; irrespective of how small the step may be.
‘Remember to convey the message during setbacks that it is often a case of “two steps forward, one step back”, but this still results in progress being made.’
Suggest talking at a different time
Sometimes, the feelings of anxiety may be too overwhelming, and simply rearranging a plan could make a huge difference.
If the person you’re supporting finds certain events particularly stressful – or they are just having a difficult day – talking at a different time could be the solution.
Anxiety disorders can trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response, which means seemingly innocuous conversation can feel like an attack.
If this feels like it might be the case, the most useful thing you can do is leave the situation for a later date.
Remind them of coping techniques
Often, people with anxiety will have coping techniques that have helped them in the past. In a particularly anxious moment, it can be hard to remember to do these – so a reminder may be appreciated.
These can be particularly helpful for children who are experiencing poor mental health, something the pandemic has put pressure on.
Activities like writing in a journal, a short meditation session, or relaxing music can all make a difference, and an anxious child might appreciate taking a break to do these.
For adults with anxiety, Shanley Lewis, a Mindset Coach from Wellbetter, recommends asking what techniques are helpful for them – and then leaving the situation while they do them.
‘Sometimes, they’ll just want some time alone or a glass of water.’
Signpost professional help
If anxiety is limiting a person’s life, contacting the NHS for help might be the next step.
Offering to aid with the process – whether it’s booking an appointment, or talking through therapy options – could be an appreciated help.
Parents can child seek support from a GP, or point them in the direction of specific organisations like YoungMinds.
Both people with anxiety, and their friends and families, can join support groups such as those run by Anxiety UK and local branches of Mind.
These encourage communication and advice in a professional capacity, and could allow people to mitigate their anxiety through learning what works for them.
What not to say to someone with anxiety
Don’t invalidate their feelings
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, Daniel Solden from My Pocket Therapist says that ‘it is very important to always be diplomatic, understanding, and empathetic when someone is suffering from anxiety.
‘Rather than telling them to forget their anxiety, it’s important to validate their feelings and offer them support. For example, “I hear what you’re saying. Let me know how I can help.”
‘Don’t tell them that you’re ‘also stressed or that they need to grow up’, as that will invalidate their feelings and add to their anxiety level.’
Don’t tell them to ‘calm down’
Telling a person with anxiety to calm down is unhelpful – and often impossible for them.
As people with anxiety disorders can often feel overwhelmed, asking them to snap out of a sensation is unlikely to feel supportive.
Instead of this, ask about how the experience feels, and read other personal stories of anxiety to empathise.
Remember, it’s important to look after yourself, so create a dialogue about how you’re feeling too.
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