Relationships

12 Little Ways You Can Support A Loved One Who Has Anxiety

Small gestures make a big difference.
11/13/2018 08:06pm ET | Updated November 15, 2018
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Anxiety-related symptoms may include persistent and excessive worry, feelings of dread, shortness of breath, headaches and stomachaches.

Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. in a given year, making them the most common mental health condition.

If you don’t struggle with anxiety yourself, chances are that someone in your circle ― a partner, co-worker, friend or relative ― does. So how do you support a loved one who may be dealing with this condition?

It can be hard to figure out what’s truly helpful when certain comments ― even well-intentioned ones ― sometimes do more harm than good. That’s why we’ve asked people living with anxiety to share the words, gestures or other forms of support that mean the most to them.

1. Listen without judgment.

“It is so important to understand that sometimes I just can’t help worrying. Instead of telling your loved one with anxiety to stop worrying or to think about something else, you can just be there for them. My loved ones will sit and listen to my fears or concerns (even my silliest ones) and not offer judgment. Sometimes just listening and acknowledging that you’re there if the person needs you can be so helpful. You don’t even need to say anything, you just need to listen. Let them get it out.” ― Lauren Rearick

2. Remind us we’re not a burden.

“Most people suffering from anxiety are very aware of how irrational it is to be anxious over things others may think are no big deal. Knowing this actually increases my anxiety because I never want to be a burden. The best thing a loved one can do for me when I already feel out of control is to assure me I’m not a burden by allowing me to work through it, cope and calm myself in my own ways and let me get centered.”Shelby Goodrich Eckard

3. Be patient with us if we don’t respond to texts or calls right away.

“I’ve noticed people get frustrated with my unresponsiveness when I’m in anxiety mode. It doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone who deals with anxiety, but in my case, I become reclusive and stay completely in my head. Loved ones sometimes feel like it’s rude or purposeful when I’m really just dealing with anxiety. I wish they would have a little more patience and refrain from seeming frustrated. I’m not trying to avoid everyday life or be rude, I’m just in my head analyzing things and trying to live life minute by minute as best as I can.” ― Javier Montalvo

4. Tackle a simple task that’s overwhelming us.

“Sometimes the littlest things can feel the most overwhelming — and come with added guilt because we think they should be easy. When a loved one helps by removing something stressful from my to-do list, like booking flights or making restaurant reservations, it can make a huge difference.” ― Clare Kayden Hines

5. Sit with us when we need company.

“Sometimes just knowing someone is there with you is everything. The best thing my loved one has done for me when I was at my worst with anxiety is just sit with me. Presence is powerful.” ― Goodrich Eckard

6. Ask if we want to get out of the house for a little while.

“Offer a quick 15-minute break for tea, ice cream or a short walk. A short break to share a few words or smiles would help tremendously by breaking my anxiety rush.” ― Sandra Spellman

7. Avoid curt text message replies that might make us think you’re mad at us.

“This sounds petty, but whenever a significant other or family member responds to a text with a curt ‘K’ (or worse, nothing at all!), I can’t help but worry: ‘Are they mad at me?’ ‘Did I say something wrong?’ ‘What did I do!?’ Rationally, I know I’m reading into it, and they’re probably just busy or distracted — but it still stings and makes me nervous. I totally get if you’re held up at work for an hour or so, but then I’d like to hear from you. And if you have time to write ‘K,’ then I promise you have time to write, ‘OK, sounds good.’” ― Locke Hughes

8. Ask us what helps alleviate our symptoms.

“Ask the person what helps and what doesn’t help their anxiety. Know that you are their loved one and not their therapist, so support them to get professional help if they want it. Support them through commencing medication, therapy or other life changes. Look after yourself, too. If you burn out, you won’t be of any help.” ― Hannah Daisy

9. Make an effort to understand our feelings, but don’t feel like you have to solve our problems.

“One of the most important things is to never disregard someone’s anxiety. My husband took some time to understand how my anxiety affects me, but he never once ignored or refused to acknowledge it. It meant a lot to me when he tried to understand my feelings and what I was going through. He also doesn’t always try to immediately find a solution to everything, because most of the time, there is no straightforward solution. Instead, he listens and makes sure he’s there for me when I need him. If there’s anything he can do to make me feel better, like making sure I take breaks and eat proper meals, he will do it. I feel like it’s the little gestures that really go a long way.” ― Debbie Tung

10. Remind us to slow down and take some deep breaths.

“Tell me to take three deep and slow breaths. If you say this to me and I do it, it will feel life-saving.” ― Spellman

11. Find out what our love language is so you know how to make us feel cared for.

“Everyone has different ways of showing they care. But for someone with anxiety, it’s super reassuring to feel like you’re cared for and appreciated by your loved ones. For me, hearing, ‘I’m excited to see you tonight!’ or ‘I love you and I’m proud of you,’ every so often can go a really long way in making me feel far less anxious and much more assured. For others, maybe it’s gifts or acts of service. The five love languages can help you better understand what your loved one’s preferred communication style is.” ― Hughes

12. Encourage us to get out of our comfort zones when the time is right.

“The most helpful thing my partner does when I struggle with anxiety is that he offers a home base I can return to. He encourages me to tackle hard things and break out of my comfort zone while continually letting me know he’s got my back. This actually results in me relying on his help less often; I feel more confident taking on life knowing a sympathetic ear is waiting for me at the end of the day.” ― Kate Allan

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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