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Have you ever had an anxiety attack? It’s a horrible, helpless feeling. In fact, it can feel so bad that some people think they are dying or having a heart attack. When you’re going through something like that, you might feel alienated and alone. If you’ve never gone through it, take a moment to imagine what that must feel like. Now, you’ve taken the first step towards learning how to help someone with anxiety.
If you’ve ever suffered from an anxiety attack, or if you live with anxiety disorder like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), then you will know the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness than can overtake you. So often, we try to maintain the appearance of “normalcy” on the outside, while we’re suffering on the inside. We’d rather just avoid having to explain ourselves to people who may judge us — but what if more people learned how to help someone with anxiety?
Words can’t describe how crushing it is to gather the courage to explain our struggle, only to have someone minimize it. I’ve had people laugh at me, mock me, or even accuse me of crying to get my own way. Others completely dismiss the validity of any type of mental illness and simply tell me to “suck it up” or launch into a whole discussion on why germs are important. Rather than arguing with someone about what they’re going through, try these things instead.
We’ve all felt judged at one point or another in our lives. Think back to the last time that happened to you — How did it make you feel? Have you ever been upset by something that no one else thought was a big deal? Did it help to have people making fun of you for having your own very real and valid feelings?
When you encounter someone with anxiety, resist the urge to judge the situation from your perspective. This isn’t about you. Respect the fact that, for whatever reason, this situation was upsetting to someone else and just show them some kindness. It truly is one of the best ways to how to help someone with anxiety. Isn’t that what we should be doing anyway?
Rather than coming up with your own theories about someone else’s life, take the opportunity to listen. Don’t just hear the words they are saying — really pay attention to what they are telling you and try imagining the situation from their perspective. It may not be easy at first, but with time you’ll get better at it.
Empathy is a quality that is sorely lacking in our society today, but it’s something we should be striving to show toward our fellow human beings every day. You may not be able to fully understand what someone with anxiety is going through, but you ought to try. The best way you can how to help someone with anxiety is to listen.
One of the things that upsets me most is when I let my guard down, tell someone how they can support me, and then watch them cross all my boundaries. If I say I don’t want you wearing shoes in my house or that I don’t want to meet with you for lunch if you’re sick, then just respect that.
People with anxiety are scared of something — it’s different for everyone and it doesn’t have to make sense to you. For this reason, though, they need to feel like they can trust the people in their life. When you ignore boundaries, you worsen their suffering and damage your relationship. Always keep that in mind.
Show Your Love
Any time someone feels different, whether it’s due to mental illness or some other reason, they may go through bouts of feeling as though they are damaged or unlovable. It’s not easy to be the one person who is scared of something when everyone else is having a great time. People love a good potluck and, when I worked in an office, I always felt like an oddball for not joining in (there’s NO way I’m eating food someone brought from their house!).
When you see that person bravely standing off to the side (or trembling in a corner), go show them some love. Don’t ask them to explain anything, don’t point out the awkwardness — just smile and let them know they’re not alone.
Ask How You Can Help
Just like we all have our own love languages, what we need to feel safe and secure varies greatly from person to person. Don’t automatically assume that what you find soothing will work for anyone else. That’s why, if you’re supporting someone with anxiety, it’s important to communicate.
Some people like their physical contact when they’re upset — having my arm rubbed while I’m having a meltdown might send me over the edge. Ask how you can help, listen intently and also look for cues from body language. If someone is feeling very agitated, for example, and they seem bothered by noise or bright lights, guide them toward someplace quieter. This change in atmosphere might be the reprieve they need to regain their sense of balance.
What about you? What are some things that make you feel calmer when you’re feeling anxious? Did we miss anything? Tell us in comments!