- Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health concerns. Despite their prevalence, it can be difficult to know how to support a loved one who’s experiencing anxiety.
- One of the most important ways you can help someone living with anxiety is to familiarize yourself with the differences between commonplace worry and clinically-significant anxiety.
- Watching someone you care about experience anxiety can be difficult. Rest assured, there are ways you can help, including encouraging them to talk to a therapist when needed.
Anxiety disorders are incredibly common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 19% of adults and 32% of young people ages 13-18 in the United States. So if someone you care about is dealing with anxiety, they’re far from alone.
Research also shows that these conditions are on the rise. The World Health Organization reported a 25% increase in anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the worst of the pandemic is thought to be behind us, anxiety rates have not meaningfully gone down. So if a friend or loved one is living with anxiety, read on to learn the best ways to help them feel supported.
The difference between anxiety and worry
Have you ever stopped to think about the difference between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder? If not, it’s probably because of how frequently these terms are used in everyday conversation. But if you or someone you care about has been dealing with an increase in anxious feelings, it’s important to understand the difference between worry and clinically significant anxiety.
Worry is a normal part of life, and in some cases, it can even protect us from harm by alerting us to potential danger in our surroundings. Everybody experiences worry and stress from time to time and these feelings are typically the result of an external trigger. For example, maybe you’re preparing for a complicated surgery or perhaps you recently lost your job and the bills are stacking up. Or maybe you’ve faced systemic barriers like racism or sexism in your workplace or community throughout your life. It would make complete sense that you would feel worried or anxious about any of these stressful situations.
But here’s how clinically-significant anxiety is different from worry.
Clinically-significant anxiety doesn’t have a known source or trigger like those in our examples above. It can appear seemingly out of nowhere and can be very difficult to control. Everyone experiences anxiety in their own way and there are a variety of different types of anxiety disorders. But if you or someone you care about is exhibiting any of the following signs and symptoms, it might be time to consider speaking with a mental health professional who can help.
- Constant feelings of worry or a sense of dread
- Being easily startled and frequently feeling tense
- Chronic irritability and/or restlessness
- Fearing the worst-case scenario all the time
- Avoiding people, places, or things that could cause anxiety
- Being constantly on the lookout for potential danger
- Rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath
- Twitches, tremors, sweating
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Chronic fatigue
- Frequent headaches
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Frequent need to urinate
Three ways to help someone with anxiety
If someone you care about is struggling with anxiety, you likely want to do something to help. But if you haven’t experienced serious anxiety yourself, you might be wondering what you can do to show support. You may even fear doing or saying something that could make your loved one feel worse. With a bit of forethought, there are some things you can do to help your loved one feel less alone.
1. If you notice that someone is having a hard time, check in.
Some people worry that their loved one might not want to talk about their anxiety or that bringing it up could be uncomfortable. But it’s important to remember that living with anxiety, while incredibly common, can still be an isolating experience. Checking in is a simple way to show a person that you care and it can help them feel less alone.
If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, try using the ALEC model which stands for Ask, Listen, Encourage, and Check in.
- A = Ask open-ended questions about how they are and what’s been happening lately.
- L = Listen and give them your full attention while they speak.
- E = Encourage them to take action towards feeling better.
- C = Check in with them regularly after your chat.
2. Brainstorm solutions and offer tangible ways to help.
The well-meaning question “What can I do to help?” can feel overwhelming to people who are already having a difficult time. So instead of asking the person to tell you what they need, listen intently and tackle some brainstorming yourself.
Come up with a short list of offers you think would make a difference based on what you’ve heard and observed from them. What simple tasks could you take off their plate? This could be an offer of transportation, a trip to the grocery store, an afternoon of childcare, or even just some company for a short walk.
3. Set boundaries and prioritize your own self-care.
Watching a friend or loved one navigate anxiety can be a heart-wrenching experience. You hate to see them in pain and likely wish you could do something to ease their suffering. But to be a source of continued support, you also need to take care of yourself.
Self-care can take many forms so make time for whatever activities rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. By prioritizing your own mental health you’ll have more capacity to support your loved one in the future.
How to find a therapist who specializes in anxiety
If a loved one’s anxiety is significantly impacting their daily life, despite their efforts to manage it, it might be time to encourage them to seek professional help. You can support your loved one navigate this part of their journey by helping them research their treatment options and letting them know that you’ll be there with them in each step of the journey.
At Path, we know that the process of finding the right mental health support can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re already struggling. We built our platform to quickly match people with the right therapist to meet their needs — someone who takes their insurance and who specializes in treating anxiety and other relevant concerns.
More From Path
With the right support, you can heal from abandonment trauma.
It’s a condition that’s often misunderstood by both medical professionals and the general public.