Edited by Vanishree
In our previous article, we told you everything that you (probably) shouldn’t say. Most of us did not grow up in environments where we really learned how to deal with anxiety or any mental illness, for that matter. It’s understandable to feel lost or helpless in those situations so here’s a “To-Do” list of things you (probably) can say to people with anxiety:
1. “How can I help?” / “What can I do?”
Ask. Often, the best thing you can do is to simply ask how you can help. Everyone has a different way of dealing with things, and if you ask, they might just have something you can do to help ease their worries. You have no idea how comforting it is to just know that you have someone you can rely on and someone who genuinely wants to help. This can also be done by just providing company and engaging in their idea of comfort. For instance, if taking a walk is calming for someone, you can ask if they would like some company. You don’t have to necessarily talk or actively try to make things better, just being there helps.
2. “What do you need?” / “What can I get you?”
However, sometimes there's nothing you can offer a person, either in terms of emotional support or concrete ideas and, in those cases, the most you can do is offer the person food if they're likely to forget to eat and tea if they need it. That sort of tangible support goes a long way too and is very much appreciated.
3. “Hello! I love you!”
Let the person know that you're there for them and that you love them. Between anxious spirals, it’s easy to get lost between one’s insecurities, forget that they are loved, and feel like they’re a burden. During these times, letting them know that you believe their emotions are valid and don't think that there's anything wrong with them can prove to be comforting. This sort of emotional support is sometimes enough to help pull through periods of intense anxiety. It also reminds the person that they are not alone and do not have to go through this alone –– which is again something that can easily be forgotten.
4. “Do you need some space?/ Would you like me to stay?”
Sadly, sometimes even emotional and/ or tangible support can prove unhelpful. It's easy to feel useless and try to overcompensate at such times but know that this is not necessary. In such situations, it may be best to give the person the space they need and leave them alone. Alternatively, they could also not want to be left alone, in which case your mere presence may be better than nothing at all. We realize this sounds confusing, but like with most things relating to anxiety, it’s largely contextual and subjective. What always helps is to ask what they would prefer and to go with your instinct. Naturally, this is not an easy balance to find and that’s okay.
5. “You can rant if you want to.”
Another way to be there for them is to provide a listening ear. Give them a safe space to rant, where they can openly feel anxious without having to worry about the other things.
What happens many times is that everyone is so busy coming up with solutions, they forget to simply just listen to their side. While doing this, you don’t necessarily have to agree with what they’re feeling but just need to listen. What this means is that you don’t have to, at least at first, remind them of what is ‘wrong’ with what they’re feeling –– that can come later.
6. “Would going over the scenarios help?”
After listening, what can also help is to talk it out and walk through the situation with them, if they want to. Brainstorm together solutions for a particular worry and be patient even if solutions are squashed. The point of this is that by walking through a situation, you allow them to look at different scenarios rather than just directly concluding ‘it’ll be okay.’ So, instead of oversimplifying the situation, try to come up with realistic alternatives and provide a holistic overview. This activity provides the assurance that ‘it’ll be okay’ alone does not convey. Keep in mind that if this is a particularly high-stress situation, this could also make someone fixate on the worst-case scenario more, so proceed with caution.
Go With Your Gut
At the end of the day, the best thing to do is to simply talk to your friends and family. Ask them for their triggers and what they need. This article is in no way a holistic guide and each person is different. It’s understandable if you make mistakes and feel helpless. So, communicate, be patient, and educate yourself further on these concepts. It's really all you can do to make sure you're prepared for these situations. And lastly, while trying to help someone else, don’t forget to take care of your mental health too. Have your own boundaries, remember it’s not your duty to be their therapist, you can only be a friend –– which we hope this article helped with.