Anxiety is among the most common mental illnesses, with nearly one in five of the nation’s adult population living with some form of this disorder. Despite the fact that it’s highly treatable, only about a third of people ever receive formal treatment.
Whether or not someone is receiving professional treatment for an anxiety disorder, a strong support system is essential for their wellbeing and can be a lifeline during difficult times. Knowing how to help someone with anxiety can improve understanding and communication and may encourage them to seek treatment.
How to Know When Someone with Anxiety Needs Help
Anxiety can leave some people frozen in fear, but for others, it pushes them to be successful in work and life. Below the surface, the individual may be preoccupied with fears about failing at work, losing relationships, or letting important tasks fall through the cracks.
Anxiety doesn’t always look the way we expect, making it hard to know how to support someone with anxiety. Even so, there are a few markers that can indicate whether someone with anxiety needs help.
They’re Unable to Enjoy Life
Whether someone is paralyzed or propelled by their anxiety, this disorder can disrupt their ability to enjoy life. According to a 2016 study, people with anxiety perceive the world differently from those without the illness.
Anxiety traits are normal and necessary for everyone, protecting us from making poor decisions and helping us recognize dangerous situations. The problem is that for someone with anxiety, the brain doesn’t distinguish between neutral and safe situations and dangerous ones. In other words, certain things that may seem benign to one person may seem fraught with danger for someone with anxiety. This can limit the opportunities they take and affect their ability to enjoy experiences.
Their Work or Academic Success Is Suffering
Anxiety gets in the way of concentration, impacting the individual’s ability to track conversations, store important information and stay on task. Because these are essential for success at work and school, those living with anxiety tend to have difficulties in academic and professional spheres.
They Aren’t Socializing with Friends
Social anxiety disorder is a form of anxiety that causes someone to be fearful that others are watching and critiquing them. As a result, someone with this disorder typically avoids social situations for fear of doing or saying something inappropriate or embarrassing. However, anxiety can be very isolating, regardless of the type, and even those with other anxiety disorders may avoid socializing.
Being able to control the environment is important for many people living with anxiety, particularly for those who experience panic attacks. Social situations are unpredictable by nature and can cause a lot of stress for someone with a mental illness. As a result, many people with anxiety avoid socializing altogether.
They’re Having Problems at Home
Someone living with anxiety is constantly on high alert. Their brain is in fight-or-flight mode, which can create a lot of tension at home. Additionally, if someone’s anxiety is causing financial difficulties, disruptions in household routines, and limited social opportunities for others in their household, resentment may build and conflicts may arise.
The Importance of Being Educated about Anxiety
Despite how common anxiety disorders are, misinformation and misunderstandings can add to the challenges of living with this type of mental illness. Being educated can help someone know how to support someone with anxiety.
Being Educated Helps You Provide Support
For someone who doesn’t live with anxiety, it can be hard to understand why certain situations and activities are fear-inducing for an individual living with this illness. Understanding what anxiety is and how it affects the brain’s perception of the world can help them be more understanding and better equipped to provide emotional support and practical help.
Being Educated Combats Stigma
Many living with anxiety feel trapped and misunderstood but unable to reach out for help. For some, it can feel like a personal weakness that they should be able to overcome. Unfortunately, others who don’t understand the illness may share that belief. Being educated about anxiety is important for combating that stigma and recognizing how disruptive this illness can be.
Being Educated Helps You See How Anxiety Affects Your Relationship
Anxiety can cause people to act in unexpected ways. For some, this may mean canceling plans at the last minute or ghosting a friend or romantic partner altogether. While someone with anxiety is still ultimately responsible for doing their part in maintaining healthy relationships and being dependable, there may be times when tackling a potentially stressful activity head-on seems impossible. Being educated about anxiety can help their friends or partners better understand where they’re coming from.
Being Educated Helps Others Feel Seen
While anxiety disorders impact a large portion of the population, they are still in the minority. Roughly 80 percent of U.S. adults don’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and many don’t understand how disruptive it can be. Making an effort to be educated about this illness helps those living with it to feel seen and understood.
How to Help Someone with Anxiety
People living with anxiety benefit significantly from professional help. Whether or not they’re currently in treatment, there are a few things those in their support system can do to help them. These may include:
- Learning about the illness
- Encouraging them to seek treatment
- Providing positive reinforcement of healthy behaviors
- Helping them set realistic, measurable goals
- Don’t make assumptions about what the individual needs
What to Say to Someone with Anxiety
One of the most helpful things someone can do when a loved one is experiencing anxiety is to provide validation. Most people with this disorder know their fears seem illogical to others and that others don’t face the same challenges they do. Having someone recognize the situations and activities that are difficult for them and acknowledging the significance of them taking on something they’re fearful of is a great show of support.
Knowing how to support someone having a panic attack is a little more difficult. The truth is that in the moment, there isn’t much someone can do to end the attack or diminish its intensity. Afterward, however, it may be helpful to have a conversation about what triggered the attack, how you can help anticipate triggers in the future, and where the individual can find professional help.
What Not to Say to Someone with Anxiety
Similarly, there are things someone could say to a loved one with anxiety that would be counterproductive or even harmful. These may include phrases such as:
- “Stop worrying”
- “Calm down”
- “It’s all in your head”
- “No one else is worried about this”
- “Just take deep breaths”
Diminishing someone’s fear or pushing them to do something they’re afraid to do is unhelpful and may cause lasting damage to the relationship. However, it’s also important to not enable unhealthy behaviors. Helping the individual avoid difficult situations doesn’t give them the opportunity to overcome fears and prove to themselves that they’re capable of tackling challenges.
Knowing When to Recruit Help
In some cases, you may not be the best person to help someone living with anxiety. Relationship dynamics, a history of unhelpful behaviors, or the severity of the condition may require you to bring in additional help. You can still provide support and encouragement, but professional treatment may be necessary for them to manage the illness.
Helping Someone with Anxiety
Fortunately, helping someone with anxiety doesn’t require a degree or extensive training. A strong support system that accompanies professional treatment can go a long way in helping someone address their illness.
Prepare to Listen
The most important thing someone can do for a loved one with anxiety is to be prepared to listen. No two people experience anxiety in exactly the same way, and feeling misunderstood can be isolating. Ask questions, and take the time to listen to their responses.
Provide Encouragement to Seek Help
Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy alongside prescription medications can be very effective in helping someone manage anxiety. While some people may learn to manage their illness on their own, others benefit from professional help. Connecting a loved one with professional treatment can give them the encouragement they need to take the first step.