Chances are that you’ve encountered at least one person in your life who has felt the effects of anxiety. Anxiety is a very broad term – first and foremost it refers to a state of mind consisting of general unpleasantness or unease, a state often triggered by seemingly insignificant factors or everyday events. Furthermore, it is an umbrella term that incorporates a plethora of psychiatric disorders, stretching from mild ones to chronic disorders that can affect a person’s entire life.
Statistically speaking, 1 in every 12 people suffer from or have felt the effects of anxiety at least a few times in their life. It is practically impossible to not know someone who has been through the intense emotions that can arise from these states of mind. Therefore, it is important to know how to deal with people who have anxiety – how to empathize properly with them and how to help them and avoid common mistakes that can end up pushing them further down. Here are some easy to remember tips to keep in mind when dealing with people who are affected by anxiety.
First things first: don’t be intrusive, try to get a feel of their comfort zone. To help someone close to you, you must first understand how they see the matter. Get a good idea how they see themselves in relation with the anxiety. Decide together on when and where you will meet and discuss. This being something deeply personal for anyone experiencing it, be mindful of these circumstances, and try to keep them in a comfortable space, where you can talk openly. Also remember that if they wish to talk to you it does not mean that they seek advice. Sometimes, listening is just enough.
To make it easier for the topic to arise and for the conversation to flow, try to use open-ended questions – in other words, questions that will encourage them to open up, because they cannot be answered by a simple yes or no. Some examples of these questions: “So how are you feeling about…?”, “What troubles you?” or “Could you tell me more about…?”
If you want to help someone who is experiencing anxiety issues:
- …express your desire to lend an ear to their troubles.
- …talk openly about your own feelings, to encourage them to talk about their own.
- …listen to what they have to say.
- …let them know that you can see a change in how they behave.
- …help them educate themselves on the topics of anxiety, depression, and help them better identify their issues.
- …encourage them to contact a doctor and help them with the process.
- …let them know that it is not shameful to admit their feelings of fear and confusion.
- …let them know that it is natural for them to be afraid, and that they can and will get better if they wish to.
- …try to directly tell them how to act about their habits (even if they’re bad habits). This will only make them feel more estranged from you.
- …avoid them only because they won’t or can’t (for any reason) talk about their issues.
- …insist on telling them things like “just calm down” or “take it easy, it’ll go away”. This can only make them angry or irritated, as a state of anxiety is much more than mere nervousness or agitation.
- …make or encourage them to avoid situations which make them more anxious. Part of the process of dealing with anxiety is facing the exact situations that cause the most intense anxiety.