When anxiety came to my door uninvited, I began to feel like the only language I could speak was metaphors. Perhaps it was because the intensity of what I felt convinced me that mundane language would not be able to encapsulate whatever I was trying to express. But as much as I hoped it would, “I feel like I’m drowning” or “the world is caving in on me” did not seem like a comprehendible concept for anyone who heard it.
The thing is that when the world begins to shrink around us, we tend to believe that is how it actually is, without realising how difficult it may be for someone else to understand and provide help.
Therefore, in this read, I’m going to discuss a number of effective ways that helped me and will certainly help you become an ally to your loved ones suffering from anxiety.
Don’t tell them to ‘stop thinking about it
Anxiety forces you into a loop of thought that seems almost impossible to escape. Suddenly, such a world doesn’t exist where they’re not overwhelmed by the thought of being stuck in a traffic jam, having to give a public speech or the inevitable happening when they least expect it.
In such a vulnerable mental state, the last thing they need is to be told to “chill out”. It can come across as dismissive and minimise the severity of their struggles. Instead, reassure them that you understand how difficult it can be to cope with anxiety and that you’ll be there to support them through it. Yes, it may feel like the world is going to end, but you’re going to be there with them if it does.
Happiness isn’t the ultimate solution
Expecting someone who is anxiety stricken to be happy right away is like expecting a toddler to run when he’s only begun to crawl. To them, happiness is something that belongs to the multiverse, far from them. By trying to make them happy, you may unintentionally be pressurising them to seem cheerful and invalidate the emotional state they find themselves trapped in.
Instead, allow them to feel the way that they do and accept it. Being comfortable with unpleasant feelings is the first step to recovery. Remind your friend that it’s not always going to be like this, but until things get easier, the rest of the world can wait.
Give reassurance often
- “Everything is going to be OK.”
- “Your thoughts are just that – thoughts, they’re not facts”.
- “I promise you this is going to end.”
Seemingly, these are simplistic obvious statements. But here’s the real deal, the obvious and basic can become a luxury for some of us. As a matter of fact, sometimes the reality may sound like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I can’t go to the grocery store on my own”.
Sometimes, receiving a reminder that everything is going to be okay can be a much-needed breath of fresh air. It’s important not to get frustrated if your loved one asks for reassurance multiple times a day. It simply means that they trust you and rely on your support during this difficult time.
Step in their shoes
When someone’s suffering from anxiety (or going through a depressive phase), what they want has very little say for the time being. They want to go to their friend gathering, but they can’t because what if I have an anxiety attack and everyone thinks I’m schizophrenic?
They want to be happy, but they just can’t get around to how.
So, my point is, you’re going to need to be patient with your friend. They may withdraw and become silent at times, and other times they may cry uncontrollably, even if you repeatedly ask what’s wrong. Please understand that this is not their fault and that it’s a natural part of their anxiety.
To become the rock that your anxious friend can lean on, try and see the world through their lenses.
Where exists talk, there exists hope
Pain, of any kind, is an incredibly isolating experience, making it easy for someone who is already on the edge to feel like they won’t be understood. Perhaps even that they don’t deserve it for being ‘such a child’ about something that isn’t an issue to everyone else.
By truly listening and showing empathy, you can help ease their anxiety and make them feel heard and understood. Ultimately, offering someone your presence and listening ear would help them feel validated, and believe me, the only way that road leads are to recovery.
Take care of yourself
You can only effectively support and care for those around you when you are in a good place yourself. It is common to get burnt out and begin to feel apathetic towards someone who’s been suffering if it is taking a toll on your mental health.
It is completely okay if you need professional help or a listening ear for yourself too. You deserve just as much love, care, and affection as you’re trying to give others. So be sure to inculcate activities in your routine that will keep your mind healthy.
Finally, I want to express how proud I am of you for making an effort to support your friend (and I’m sure they are grateful for you as well). I know it might not seem like you’re able to make a difference right away, but you are surely playing an irreplaceable part in their journey. Something that might seem like a small gesture to you can make a world of difference to someone who is struggling to hold onto dear life.
Thank you for being a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.
Asma Irfan is a freelance content writer (and an avid reader) who is passionate about breaking down the taboos surrounding mental illnesses and creating a safe space wherever he can.