“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength” – Charles Spurgeion
The term anxiety has become a go-to phrase for when a person is feeling nervous or uneasy about something such as a test or a visit from their mother-in-law. That type of anxiety is a normal emotion tied to a specific event. Everyone feels nervous or anxious about something at some point in their lives.
Anxiety is not an uncontrollable disease. It is not an illness that you can inherit or catch from someone else. (Yes, someone asked me that once.) Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state of being. It is the feeling you get when you are worried or concerned. It is often tied to being uncertain about the future and/or the fear and apprehension from a real or fantasized threat.
Anxiety is caused by worrying about things that may or may not happen. Often people worry about things they have no control over which makes their anxiety worse. Anxiety by itself is not a disorder. It turns into a disorder when your anxiety causes disruption in normal functioning. When worrying is no longer just a concern but a constant state of behavior that interferes with your normal lifestyle.
Perception of Danger
You feel anxiety when you think something may harm you. It is the body’s way of surviving when we think something or someone we care about is in danger.
It becomes a problem when people perceive danger as a constant threat and feel fear. They experience this fear to a higher degree than people who are not anxious. This results in apprehensive behavior with a varying degree of symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Stomach upset
- Burning skin
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Electric shock feeling
This is not a comprehensive list. There are many more symptoms of anxiety, but these are most common.
Anxiety isn’t something that happens to you. It is caused by your behavior. If you are imagining the future in a fearful apprehensive way, it will result in an anxious feeling.
Anxiety happens for specific reasons. Once those reasons are identified and addressed many of the sensations and symptoms can be alleviated. The best way to address the reasons for your anxiety is a combination of good self-help information and counseling/therapy. Now that you know what it is, what can you do to help?
How to Help Your Friend or Loved One with Anxiety
People who suffer from anxiety disorder (sometimes called a panic attack), have difficulty getting through an average day. Their suffering not only affects them, but it also affects the people who love them. Often loved ones have to deal with a person who is affected physically, emotionally, and psychologically on a daily basis and as a result, their lives are also in turmoil. That is why it is important for you as the friend or loved one to also get support.
It takes time to overcome anxiety, but with proper professional help, it can be done. Until then, there are several things you can do to help the sufferer overcome their struggle with anxiety.
- Learn about the disorder – By understanding what the person is going through, you will be better able to support them as well as keep your own worry under control. You will feel less frustrated and be open to listening to their fears without judgement.
- Do not expect them to snap out of it – Anxiety is not something a person can just quit feeling. It is behavior based and can only be relieved by the right information and support. Often gathering information about the event that is causing the anxiety helps to ease it. Do not try to reason or use logic about why they should not be afraid. They already know their fears shouldn’t bother them, but they can’t stop the anxiety regardless of how hard they try.
- Accept stressful periods – You will have to change your expectations of how your friend should act and then be supportive when they need it.
- Do not ask about their anxiety – Sometimes just talking about their panic attacks can increase their anxiety and cause a panic attack. So, for example, don’t ask “Hey, how are your panic attacks?” Let them tell you when they can.
- Be encouraging – remember that everyone experiences stress and anxiety differently. Tell them they can call you anytime and you will be there to listen. Just knowing someone will pick up on the other end can be incredibly comforting to someone who feels afraid. Anxiety often makes people feel alone and misunderstood. Tell them you will never judge them because of their anxiety.
- Be forgiving – Anxiety changes the chemistry in the brain causing people who suffer from it to get irritated quickly. They do not have control over this emotion and often do not understand it themselves.
- Share activities – Being outside and physically active helps reduce anxiety symptoms. Exercise is one of the recommendations for treatment of anxiety and an added benefit is how healthy you become.
- Take care of yourself – Dealing with anxiety is a constant battle and being supportive is draining. You also need someone to talk to who understands anxiety and can be there to listen to your frustrations and guide you on the best way to continue helping your friend.
- Be positive – Have fun and don’t change who you are to accommodate your friend’s fears. Your friend doesn’t want you to change and the fact that you are trying to help is having a positive impact on their life. Have fun and make new memories that you can share during rough patches.
It won’t be an easy hill to climb. Sometimes you’ll find you have slid backwards and must climb it again. At times your relationship may feel strained and distant. That is normal since anxiety causes a significant amount of stress on friendships.
Supporting your friend through treatment and learning everything you can about anxiety will give you both the best opportunity for a happy successful relationship. Many find that once the anxiety is resolved, their relationship is stronger, and they have grown closer.
For additional tips on dealing with anxiety take a look at anxietycentre.com
Jim Folk, M. F. (2016, September). Anxiety attacks and Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from anxiety centre.
unk. (2018). Find Help. Retrieved from Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/finding-help/helping-others/friends-and-relatives