Helping Loved Ones With Anxiety

To live with anxiety is no easy feat—it is always seemingly present, sometimes at the forefront of our minds and sometimes less so. Our thoughts race relentlessly and we feel immense dread over things that others find effortless like scheduling that doctor appointment, replying to those emails, or driving to work. To love someone with anxiety is also no easy feat. We might find it hard to relate to our loved one’s anxiousness or feel powerless to help them in a productive manner. Fortunately, there are ways for us to help our loved ones navigate the challenges of anxiety.

Validate feelings, don’t minimize them

Anxiety is complex and a plethora of things can trigger it, but helping someone always starts with compassion. After all, remember that we often only see the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the anxiety of others. Saying something along the lines of  “I can’t believe you’d let that upset you” invalidates one’s feelings and may even worsen one's anxiety. Instead, tell your loved one that you see their worries and ask how you can best support them when things are most difficult.

Listen and ask questions

Oftentimes our loved one needs someone to listen to their worries and concerns in a non-judgmental manner. When doing so, try to avoid interrupting with solutions and instead ask questions where appropriate. Be aware of your body language, tone, and how you respond to your loved one.

Discourage substance use as a coping mechanism

If your loved one considers alcohol or other drugs as a means of “silencing” their anxiety, discourage such actions in a constructive educational manner. Alcohol and other substances can cause new anxiety and worsen pre-existing anxiety symptoms. Moreover, alcohol and other substances are a temporary treatment for anxiety as the symptoms will reappear and the underlying triggers will remain unaddressed.

Recognize what can help

There are a variety of anxiolytic approaches and activities you can suggest to—and work on with—your loved one. They include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Physical activity and regular exercise
  • Challenging negative thoughts

Encourage speaking with a professional

If you suspect your loved one may be living with an anxiety disorder, encourage (but don’t push) them to speak with a mental health professional. You may even offer to assist your loved one in locating a therapist or setting up an appointment. If they seem hesitant, remind them that it is a single appointment and that they don’t have to commit to treatment if they feel uncomfortable.

Loving someone with anxiety is no easy feat. Still, by validating feelings, actively listening, encouraging healthy coping mechanisms, and discouraging unhealthy coping mechanisms, we can help our loved ones navigate the challenges of anxiety. However, remember that it is our job to offer support, not treatment. If you suspect a loved one may be living with anxiety, encourage them to speak with a mental health professional. Our therapists at Pacific CBT are here to help! Contact us today to schedule a free, 15-minute video consultation.

About The Author

Christian Wertman currently works as a behavior therapist in the field of applied behavior analysis. Christian received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and has aspirations for a career in clinical psychology.