Our fears and anxieties have the capacity to be as individual and complicated as we are. Everyone is unique and everyone’s anxiety is specific to his or her experiences. Having a friend or family member who lives with consistent anxiety can be difficult. However, living with anxiety or depression can be as challenging as living with a physical disability and it requires patience and compassion. In this article we are going to talk about the ways you can assist your loved ones coping with anxiety by communicating with them in a supportive and encouraging manner.
Anxiety has the capacity to manifest in a lot of different ways. For example, there can be a big difference between assisting someone with panic attacks and supporting a friend with general anxiety. There are different approaches you can take in communicating with your loved ones and we’re going to walk through a few of them:
One of the most important things you can do is listen. Anxiety does not always stem from rational logic and this can make communication challenging. The impulse to approach the anxiety with solution-based logic may be difficult to resist, but it is not always the most helpful tactic.
A great question we can begin with is: What is anxiety?
The term anxiety refers to the physical or emotional responses we exhibit as a reaction to a perceived threat. Remember talking about “fight or flight” in elementary school? Anxiety is an ingrained emotional response we’re programmed with to help prepare us for dangerous situations. In the case of anxiety disorders, these natural responses are working on overtime and can interfere with the everyday life of the person living with it. Depression is often associated with anxiety but is identified by different emotional responses, often by the feelings of sadness and grief.
The Signals of Anxiety
There are signs you can make yourself aware of when identifying someone living with anxiety. These symptoms can include vocalized worry, irritability, poor sleep quality, difficulty concentrating, heavy sweating, difficulty breathing or even dizziness. Anxiety and panic may be difficult to recognize in others and it’s important you’re listening to your loved ones and encouraging their emotional feedback.
What Not To Say
If you’ve had someone disclose that they are living with a form of anxiety disorder, there are easy changes you can make in your communication techniques to help them feel at ease. These simple communicative tactics could make a big difference in their comfort levels and ability to share their emotional state with you. Some things you may want to avoid saying, or be cognizant about approaching, are terms like “calm down” or “please relax”. These may seem like rational, appropriate responses to you, but they may be harmful. It’s also important to that you don’t talk about their anxieties as a phase or as an issue that will naturally conclude. It’s a disorder that can be managed and treated, but it’s often a long-term condition. Avoiding loved ones with anxiety can also perpetuate their feelings and validate their paranoia and depression.
Consider starting an open conversation with your loved ones about the changes you’ve noticed in their emotional states or behaviours. Encourage them to seek assistance if you believe they would benefit from it (therapy can, in fact, be useful even as a preventative tool – like dental hygiene). Encouraging your friends to participate in a healthier lifestyle may also prove to have a positive impact on their lives. Regular sleeping habits or an increase in exercise can make a world a difference in the management of anxiety or depression. Even attempting some breathing exercises can substantially decrease the level of panic your friend or family member is experiencing.
Sometimes the most helpful thing for a person living with anxiety is an ally who knows how to properly communicate with them. If you have a loved one or friend who has an anxiety disorder, consider approaching their emotions with sensitivity. You can be solution-based in your suggestions or responses, but make sure you’re always listening to them and that you’re not making simplified suggestions like “calm down” or “relax”.
Just like any physical condition, anxiety is real and a challenge to live with. That’s why it’s important you know how to communicate with friends or loved ones living with anxiety. They will definitely appreciate it.
Is anxiety interfering with the life of somebody you love? Encourage them to contact The Clinic on Dupont. The Clinic’s highly trained, multi-disciplinary team provides individualized psychological assessment and treatment to children, adolescents, adults, couples and families for a variety of problems, including anxiety.