It is hard to watch a loved one in pain. It often creates a feeling of helplessness that can drive us into a desperate search for the best advice or guidance we can offer. In some cases not knowing how to help can result in our well intentioned attempts pushing our loved ones further away. Here are 3 simple ways we can help those we care about better cope with Anxiety.
- Seek First to Understand – While we all get anxious from time to time, Anxiety can be a very personal and isolating struggle. One mistake supportive loved ones often make is to assume or ( or even worse – to so say aloud) “I get it, I have anxiety too.” While the attempt might be to relate and reassure such a response can often feel dismissive to someone whose anxiety feels unmanageable. Instead, try asking your loved one about their personal struggle with anxiety; invite them to share their experience without trying to draw a comparison to your own. Be willing to focus without trying to “fix”. Listen with presence. Providing a trusted, non-judgmental space to share and reflect can be the difference between our loved ones inviting us to problem solve with them and or hiding away in silence.
- Calm Yourself – Experiencing the emotional turmoil of another can have great impact on our own experience and wellbeing – especially if we are unsure of how best to provide support. In our frantic attempts to find answers, we may not notice when we have gone from trying to alleviate their anxiety to trying to alleviate our own. When we can no longer handle feeling so helpless we begin (mostly subconsciously) trying to make our loved ones feel better so we can feel better. To avoid this, take a step back and breathe deeply. Center yourself and accept that it it is okay to say, “I don’t know.” When we say I don’t know we align ourselves with the person who is struggling. We let go of the need to ‘save’ and can focus on being a source of support. In doing so we offer to join our loved ones in finding their path to healing. It might sound something like, “I don’t know how to help but I am here. We can figure it out together.” Caring inquiry and asking “How can I help?” can be comforting and lifts the burden of assuming we must have all the answers. Calming ourselves helps us stay focused and present with our loved one and better equips us to provide them with stable and compassionate support.
- Avoid Judgment & Assumption – Intense anxiety can be an incredible challenge. As we move toward a more common knowledge of mental health and wellness we still, at times, fall back into traditional views that struggles such as stress, anxiety, and depression can simply be ‘pushed through’ and all one has to do is ‘keep going’. By pushing these messages onto our loved ones we are communicating that their personal experiences are irrelevant and underestimating the complexity and the intensity of the challenges they face. No one wants to hear, “Just get up and go about your day, and you’ll be fine.” Such messages are more likely to lead those who are struggling to further isolate and withdraw, often intensifying their symptoms while decreasing their ability to be resilient and hopeful.
The key to supporting our loved ones through a difficult time is the ability to offer compassionate and loving support. We do not need to have all the answers. We do not need to “fix” them. Our goal instead should be to create and offer a space where they feel safe enough to care for and heal themselves.
- – Bonnie J. Skinner MEd, RP, CCC