In my life, I have had the privilege of loving and being loved by many people that suffer from anxiety. It is something that I may never fully understand personally, however, I know how it feels to watch those individuals that we love oh so much suffer. In my 19 years, I have come to learn a few things about how to help our friends plagued by this mental illness to feel like they aren’t alone. I don’t share this with my loved ones, but I try to help them the best I know-how.
- Don’t tell them not to stress, that is like telling a fish not to swim!
It can feel like an obvious statement that needs to be made but the truth is that they know when they are stressing, and they can’t turn it off. It is one of the many struggles that those with anxiety deal with.
- Remind them they are doing a good job, sometimes it is just nice to hear it.
Success, whether big or small, should be acknowledged. Sometimes the smallest victories end up being the most important ones. Nobody can truly know the weight their words hold, so use them to brighten somebody’s day.
- Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.
They know what is going on, you know what is going on, so nobody really needs to say it. The last thing those with anxiety need is another person in their face telling them something that they already know.
- You can’t take it personally when they have a bad day.
If I have learned anything, it’s that anxiety isn’t personal. Sometimes they will act out irrationally and maybe even say/do hurtful things, but the important thing is that you remember that they aren’t thinking straight. Don’t add fuel to the fire, and if it is something that should be addressed, wait until a less intense time to bring it up to them.
- Anxiety isn’t all bad.
Anxiety isn’t always the struggle and pain that is depicted online. Most of my loved ones with anxiety are very organized, look very put together, and are very empathetic. Most of the time, they use this as motivation, and it is inspiring to see. They make for the best friends and family members.
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ them, they aren’t expecting that anyways.
Anxiety is not a problem to solve. More specifically, your loved ones do not need to be ‘fixed’. If they can learn to live every day with this in their heart and mind, the least we can do is love them through it and accept them for exactly who they are.
- Remind them to take care of themselves.
Somedays their minds get so busy and flooded that they can forget to eat, or maybe shower. A simple reminder that they need to take care of themselves seems to always be appreciated and necessary. Just like how we need them for their various positive attributes, it is okay for them to need us. It takes a village.
- Anxiety doesn’t always look the way you’d expect it to look.
A lot of times, anxiety isn’t constant worry or indecisiveness. It can be an anxious tick, staying up too late because they can’t sleep, feeling overly tired, and maybe just trouble concentrating. It is important to recognize that anxiety doesn’t have to fit into a perfect box of symptoms, and it is different for each person.
- Give them room to say ‘no’, they may not feel comfortable with what is going on.
Social situations can sometimes be triggering to our friends with anxiety. We have to acknowledge that they may not be up for everything, as mentally it can be overwhelming. As long as we really listen to them, they will tell us what they need.
- Support is everything.
We can’t always say and do the right thing, but as long as we support them and try our best to be there for them, they will appreciate it. It isn’t always the big booms of life, but rather the little moments that count. It isn’t going to therapy with them and helping them get on meds, it is listening to their problems and hearing their struggles. It’s reminding them that we are not going anywhere. It isn’t about being superman and saving the day, it’s about standing with them and letting them be their own hero. The small moments when looking back, always seem to end up being the big ones.
Life is not easy as it is, and it is even harder for our loved ones that have mental roadblocks in their way. It doesn’t mean they aren’t as capable, it actually means that they are stronger than most. If I have learned anything, it’s that mental illness can live in anybody. Some of the very best people I know deal with it every day. They didn’t get to be that way in spite of their mental illnesses, but because of who they are. Anxiety is not a ‘problem’ they have, it is a part of who they are and it just makes them so much tougher, braver, and beautiful. Loving is learning. I think we could all learn a thing or two about their struggles, it is the least we can do.