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12 Do's and Don'ts of Helping Someone With Anxiety

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
Medically reviewed by
Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
12 Do's and Don'ts of Helping Someone With Anxiety

Anxiety is a condition that can close you off to others. For friends and family of those living with anxiety, this can represent a serious challenge. You want to help them deal with their condition, but you don't know what to say to them that diminishes their distress.

It's important to realize that while anxiety is not a physical condition, it's also not something that can be cured by logic or reasoning. Like a disease, anxiety is something that needs special treatment. In this article, we'll give a background on what it's like to live with anxiety, followed by information on how to help your family members or friends with anxiety.

Living With Anxiety

You need to realize that anxiety disorders are not like normal anxiety. It's not like the anxiety you feel before a meeting with your boss, or when you come face to face with a bully at school. It's much more complex, much less controllable, and with passage of time, more difficult to cure.

Self-Sustaining Nature of Anxiety

The first thing to understand is that anxiety itself is self-sustaining. It causes problems with your mind and body that make it more likely to experience further anxiety. For example, anxiety leads to more negative thinking, which then precipitates Anxiety can have physical manifestations, such as hyperventilation, sweating, nausea, etc., which can be very troubling. Anxiety also creates hypersensitivity, which is a mental response that makes people more prone to noticing those physical symptoms and letting it affect them.

If anxiety were just nervousness and sweating, anxiety disorders may not be considered as serious. But anxiety is so much more than that, and the longer you live with anxiety the more prevalent these symptoms can get.

Fearing Anxiety

Anxiety can also cause people to fear the anxiety itself, which unfortunately affects other areas of their life. When you're nervous about one thing (for example, social situations) you can become nervous about other things as a result (for example, amusement park rides). So when someone starts to fear their own anxiety and its symptoms, they may also develop new anxieties, or find more situations to provoke anxiety.

Learning to Forget What You Think About Anxiety

As someone with family members or friends who have anxiety or a panic disorder, it's important to understand what anxiety really is. For example, did you know that someone with anxiety can experience physical symptoms even when they're not mentally anxious? Did you know that one of the symptoms of a panic attack is a feeling of imminent death or doom, combined with intense physical symptoms that are nearly identical to heart attacks?

If you've never had anxiety, it's extremely difficult to empathize and understand, because it is so much different than the normal anxieties people experience in their everyday life. If you start trying to "cure" your friend's anxiety by assuming you understand what they're dealing with, you're going to struggle, and you may actually upset your friend or family member more.

The Do's and Don'ts of Anxiety

With that in mind, it's time to go over some tips on how to help a friend with anxiety. Note that every person is different and has different needs. There are some people who want to talk about their anxieties, and there are others who may have never mentioned it. So even with these do's and don'ts, it's hard to know exactly what you should do. However, this can be a helpful guide.

Let's begin:

Dealing with anxiety is an uphill battle, and it does take a toll on others around them. Anxiety can strain relationships, and may even cause significant stress on a loved one. Some people find that they actually start developing anxieties of their own.

But a supportive friend is an extremely effective way to treat your own anxiety. Learn from the above tips to better understand how to help your friend, family member, or a partner and you'll give them the best opportunity to overcome their anxiety and grow closer to you as a result.

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