This topic has such a special place in my heart and I love spreading knowledge on it. After years of learning how I react to certain situations and figuring out how to get through them on my own, I have become more and more of an advocate for trying to get others to understand this process. I am not a licensed professional, this is my perception based on my own reality.
There is no one straight line, I have read dozens and dozens of articles for many, many years and pieced together the parts that resonate with me personally. I have laid out this information on countless events to significant others to try to help them understand how I’m feeling and how to support me when they can’t relate. To sum it up, much like many other things in life, they have to want to.
If you are googling “how to help people with anxiety” because your significant other has asked you to or told you to, you should probably just stop now. This process will take a significant amount of effort on your part and if you aren’t willing to put that kind of effort into the relationship, for whatever reason, then be honest with yourself and your partner right now.
Sorry to be a Debbie downer here, but it’s true.
For the rest of you who are genuinely willing to do anything for your loved one, you have come to the right place. I have compiled all of my favorite information on how to help people with anxiety right here in a neat little package, all you need is a bow.
1. Understand Fight or Flight
When you are faced with people who struggle with anxiety or depression, there are typically two ways they react to their struggle. They will either engage fight mode or flight mode. There are multiple different meanings to each of these words depending on the person, but having a deeper understanding of your loved one’s reactions can be very beneficial in helping them now and in the long-run.
If you figure out how they typically react, you can start to predict it and learn what helps get them through it. Look for these signs:
- Becoming aggressive during disagreements
- Getting angry for what seems like no reason
- Saying hurtful words when it typically isn’t in their nature
- Pushing you away through hurtful comments
When someone is in fight mode they are probably in the middle of trying to figure out why they feel how they feel and they have become extremely frustrated. They are frustrated with the pain they have been feeling for what seems like forever, and they are frustrated because they don’t know how to make it go away.
How to react: This is a very delicate situation and there is no one answer to help your loved one through this. However, some things to consider would be anything that helps that person feel more relaxed. You want to let them know you understand they are going through something and you are there for them, but you want to make sure not to smother them.
For example, think of the things that typically stress your partner and take care of them without being asked. If there is something you know your partner enjoys doing, make it happen for them at any cost.
- Hiding at home alone
- Avoiding social events
- Avoiding any and all conversation
- Acting as though they don’t care about anything
- Pushing you aware through lack of communication
When someone is in flight mode they are most likely in a slightly, hopefully not severe, state of depression. They are feeling defeated by their emotions and have run out of energy to keep going any longer.
How to react: Once your loved one has had time to themselves to think (maybe 2-5 days), they really need you to help lift them up from their slump. Start small, ask them if they would like to watch a movie or TV show together. Next, ask them to go out with you to dinner or just ice cream and coffee. If there are other things you know they enjoy doing, talk them into it. They are going to tell you “no” 15 times, ask them 16.
Neither fight nor flight mode is preferable over the other in my opinion, as one takes the risk of your partner lashing out on you and the other takes the risk of your partner being in a serious state of depression. Someone in fight or flight mode needs space and time to heal, and then they need your unconditional support.
2. Encourage Self Care
Never make them feel bad or lazy for wanting to set aside time for themselves. More than anything you should be encouraging that type of behavior. Tell them to do things they enjoy, tell them to go get their nails done, go to the gym, on a hike, or to get a massage if that’s what they enjoy. Offer to drive them there yourself! Do anything you can to make sure they feel supported and aware you are there to make them feel as relaxed and at peace as possible.
If the next step in their self-care process is going to see a counselor or therapist, make sure they know you support them in doing so. Make sure they know it is more than okay to seek professional help. While you should be there to support your loved one and do anything and everything you can to help, you are not a therapist or counselor.
From my personal experience, the best thing to do is offer to go see a counselor or therapist with them if things get too hard to handle. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, unless they have already brought it up in the past, I would be careful bringing this up depending on the type of relationship you have. Saying they need a therapist or psychiatrist will suggest they are a burden and you are just trying to push them off so you don’t have to deal with them. This will cause them to be even more defensive and upset. Read between the lines on this one.
3. Don’t Get Angry With Them
As someone who has experienced this personally dozens of times, this is one of the best ways to push someone with anxiety away. However, I can also understand the other side. I’m sure it is extremely frustrating when someone is constantly upset or worrying about things that seem ridiculous to you. I’m sure it is even more frustrating when you can’t seem to do or say anything to make them feel better.
WITH THAT BEING SAID, if you care about this person at all..do everything in your power to refrain from getting angry with them.
When I am upset and someone gets angry or frustrated with me rather than being supportive, I will immediately shut them out emotionally. You can rest assured I will never expect any emotional support from them ever again. Expecting something someone has shown you they can’t give you will only lead to more disappointment, and when I am sitting on that struggle bus the LAST thing I need is yet another thing weighing me down with disappointment.
This type of behavior breaks the trust your partner or loved one has in you. They will start to feel as though you can’t be relied on for emotional support.
4. Don’t Invalidate Their Struggle
Just because they are tired after working 8 hours and you worked 12, doesn’t mean they are not allowed to be tired. If you believe you have had it worse, it does not give you the right to tell them they can’t feel how they are feeling. Just because you may be able to endure more does not give you the right to invalidate their struggle.
This is by far one of the most harmful forms of mental abuse. There are so many harmful effects of invalidating someone’s emotions, including making them feel like a complete spaz (I’m feeling sensitive today so I’m putting this lightly). If you truly feel as though your loved one is “crazy” then please save both of you from this toxic situation and get out of the way. Your negative energy is doing nothing but pull them down even more.
Maybe they are a little more off their rocker than the normal person, but you are not authorized to make that call.
Maybe you’re just an insensitive asshole who doesn’t understand anxiety and never will because you don’t want to.
Either way, GET OUT OF THE WAY. (I guess I’m not feeling so sensitive anymore…)
Moving on, this does bring me to my next point.
There are two types of invalidation, intentional and unintentional.
Some people invalidate other people’s feelings as a form of manipulation and control over another person. This doesn’t just apply to the treatment of people struggling with anxiety.
I was mentally and emotionally abused when I was 19 years old by someone of this nature who I was in a relationship with. The majority of the severe anxiety issues I face today arose after those events.
Someone who is intentionally invalidating feelings will want them to doubt themselves and feel as though they are wrong or not allowed to feel how they are feeling so they can retain control over them. This will work for anyone who is weak-minded, and someone who is struggling mentally at the moment probably isn’t at their strongest.
Invalidation can also be completely unintentional! This is typically someone who claims they are just trying to make someone feel better. They want to try to get them to believe what they are feeling isn’t necessary because of x,y, & z. In turn, this can cause the person to feel invalidated because they will feel like they are being forced to feel a different way than they do. Don’t try to make them feel differently, try to understand why they are feeling how they feel and make them aware that you understand.
DO NOT SAY:
- It could be worse
- Be thankful for what you have
- You shouldn’t feel that way
- Stop thinking about it
- Just move on
- I am here for you
- I understand how you feel
- It might not feel okay now, but it will be okay soon
- Is there anything I can do?
- I can tell you’re upset, do you need anything?
Make sure you ask enough questions and fully express you understand how they are feeling and why before you start to give them advice
Don’t be afraid to ask someone what helps them feel better? Usually, people with stress, anxiety, or depression issues have felt these feelings before. They might know from experience what works for them and what doesn’t. Simply asking for that information and using it can make a huge difference.
5. Take Care of Yourself
I know the entire purpose of this post is to learn how to help someone with anxiety, but you can’t take care of someone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself. The famous air flight attendant comparison: put your air mask on before you put your loved one’s air mask on or you could both end up in trouble.
Don’t Be The Devil’s Advocate
Be the advocate.
I completely understand how difficult it is to deal with someone like me. I reflected on my behavior hundreds of times before getting to the strong understanding I have now, it didn’t happen overnight. Knowing the struggle I have been through to figure myself out, I can only imagine the struggle of trying to figure out what is going on in another person’s head.
If you find yourself in this situation, you don’t have to be a perfectionist at how to help someone with anxiety, but you do have to be a supporter of the process.
I would love to hear your experience or thoughts on this topic! Contact me personally at any time for additional support, information, or questions!