It’s normal for people to worry once in a while. There are a lot of things people can worry about, whether it’s because of work, friends, or family. Anxiety is so much more than that. It is like worrying, but irrational and tenfold in intensity or maybe more. It is not something that’s easy to understand. Even those with anxiety find it hard to understand or rationalize it. This is why it’s important to learn about anxiety, so that you would understand it better, as well as the people who have it, and know how to help them.
The most common mental health in the world is anxiety disorder. In 2017, 284 million people had it, with 4.7% being females, 2.8% males. In the US, the disorder affects up to 18% of the entire population.
Anxiety doesn’t really have obvious symptoms most of the time. It’s not like a regular sickness or illness, where there are a number of things that would point you to something that’s wrong. With anxiety, you can’t really see what a person that has it is going through, which is why people tend to be dismissive of it. Sometimes, people even say that a person with anxiety is just making it up. But anxiety is a very real thing and, while it may be hard to grasp, it’s important to be sensitive to people who have it.
The first thing that can lead to helping out in a meaningful way is to know what the signs are, know what to look for so that you can understand, however little, what a person with anxiety is going through and how to support them.
Signs and Symptoms
Learning to recognize what the signs of anxiety are can help people you know who have it. It can also help you because it would make you feel less helpless. Symptoms vary between different people because anxiety also manifests in different ways.
Anxiety can have physical effects and it would be good to recognize how they manifest physically. If not taken care of immediately, anxiety has the potential to ruin one’s life.
- Shortness of breath;
- Restlessness or edginess;
- Getting easily fatigued.
Having anxious thoughts
People with anxiety worry about many things and they worry about them all the time. Usually, they would have thought forms like:
- Persistent worrying;
- Believing the worst will happen;
- All-or-nothing thinking.
Anxiety also presents some behavioral symptoms.
- Seeking reassurance;
- Frustration and irritability during fearful/feared situations;
- Compulsive actions;
- Complete avoidance of feared events or happenings.
Now you know what things to look out for with people who have anxiety. These are very important to keep in mind. Just knowing what to watch out for can go a long way. However, there are also some things we should be aware of we shouldn’t do. These are things we might not be aware we do. But to a person with anxiety, it will not be helpful and might add harm.
What Not to Do
Do not force confrontation on them
Do not force them to do something they don’t want to do. It may be something they may not be ready for. Forcing them to do something they’re afraid of can worsen how they feel and can damage your relationship in return, because they will stop trusting you. Getting over something that you’re scared of is not an easy thing and being forced to do it doesn’t help them or anyone. It is important to do this with a professional therapist. If you are struggling with someone who has anxiety and you want to help them get over their fears, a professional would be able to help them better.
Do not enable them
Enabling is when you make it easier for someone with a mental disorder, like anxiety, to continue their behavior. This can happen by either rescuing or criticizing. An example of enabling would be if someone with anxiety gets terrified in crowds or public places and you would just let them not go out anymore to avoid those things.
While we always want people we love to not be hurt, you can’t just eliminate whatever you think will stop triggering their anxiety. It means well, but it’s not helpful and can cause even more harm. If you keep trying to accommodate and trying to eliminate the source of their anxiety, it does the opposite. The anxiety will just keep on growing and persisting because you’re not allowing them the opportunity to overcome what they’re afraid of.
What you can do
There are things that you can do to help, however. With wanting to accept them and love them and wanting them to get better, here are some ways that you can help someone with anxiety.
Give them some validation
Be sensitive to someone with anxiety. Watch out for the signs. Asking them what you can do to support them through a challenging moment or episode can go a long way. There are so many things that can make someone with anxiety anxious that it helps when people around them do not make them feel small about worrying about what seems like the smallest thing.
Show genuine concern
Be warm and positive. Let them know that you’ve observed something different with them or that their behavior has changed and then ask if it’s something they want to talk about. If they’re receptive to your concern and the conversation, you may then ask what kind of support you can give them.
Ask for help
Sometimes, as loved ones, we want to do everything we can to help people we know who have disorders or illnesses. But sometimes, as is the case with anxiety disorders, it may be too big or too challenging for us to handle. Asking a for help may be the best case for the person and for everyone.