How to talk to a loved one with anxiety 28



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Anxiety is an incredibly common condition; up to one in four Australians have experienced it in a serious capacity at some point, often without being able to identify the problem.

If you sit within the other 75 per cent, it can be easy to feel frustrated or helpless when a friend or family member goes through a panic attack or extended period of anxiety. The signs aren’t always outwardly obvious, and traditionally helpful techniques don’t always work – but there are plenty of ways to offer comfort and support.

Read on for some of the best ways you can support a friend or family member during this difficult, confusing period.

Do you experience anxiety, or know somebody who does? We’re eager to know what worked best for you. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Learn more about the condition
To talk with somebody experiencing anxiety, it’s vital to have a basic understanding of what they’re going through.

We usually think of anxiety as an emotional issue, but it’s far more a reflex of the body; a safety mechanism that humans evolved to keep us alive. When something doesn’t feel right – say, a suspicious rustle in the bushes – the stress will trigger a surge of adrenaline, giving us the energy to deal with any immediate danger.

However, while this sudden burst of panic was very useful in keeping our ancestors safe from sabre-toothed tigers, it’s far less useful if you feel it in the middle of a shopping trip, a drive or a conversation. To somebody with an anxiety disorder, this danger reflex can come seemingly out of nowhere, without any clear reason, and last far longer.

This creates a very uncomfortable sensation: a feeling of heart-pounding panic, but with no clear or obvious way to act on it. This, in turn, can cause squirmishness, difficulty concentrating and general indecisiveness. Learn to recognise these small antisocial cues as possible signs that something’s not right.

Offer understanding, not judgement
“Just relax”; “snap out of it”; “get your act together”. These words will never be helpful to somebody who does not feel in control of their own thoughts. On the contrary, this well-meaning encouragement can sometimes make matters worse.

As with depression, anxiety can lie beyond this type of personal control. If their worry isn’t rational or proportionate, chances are they already know they shouldn’t be anxious – and feel far worse off because of it.

It’s important to acknowledge this as a common medical condition – not, as they may be assuming, a personal fault. If necessary, remind them that it’s temporary, treatable and no indication of who they are as a person. Make it abundantly clear that they don’t need to be at their best right now; just see this current phase through.

Ask simple, non-confronting questions
The cause of anxiety isn’t always obvious, but it’s often triggered by problems that don’t have an immediate solution; uncomfortable thoughts that lurk in the back of the mind.

Ask your loved one if they’re comfortable talking about it. Keep it straightforward: “what’s troubling you?” Not everybody will be eager to talk, and those boundaries must be respected. That said: try your best. The simple task of verbalising the issue can really help them clarify it in their own mind; an invaluable step toward long-term closure.

Offer solutions, not problems
It’s one of the most natural human responses to somebody going through a rough time: “is there anything I can do to help?”

In a moment of minor personal turmoil, this question is surprisingly difficult to answer. Anxiety will often affect people’s ability to make clear decisions. Rather than putting the burden of a solution on them, offer simple, ready-made options. Drive over with a freezable dinner to make their life a little easier. Offer to book a GP visit for them, or even to accompany them to the appointment.

Don’t be afraid to take a step back
It’s difficult to fight the instinct to be overprotective. However, sometimes an anxious loved one may simply need some breathing space; to take the time to untangle their own thoughts.

It’s worth remembering that even the simplest social obligation can add to the burden of anxiety. While it can be hard not to take this personally, one of the nicest things you can do for somebody under this pressure is let them cancel their immediate plans with you.

Similarly, when leaving a text or phone message, make it abundantly clear that you’re just checking in, and that they’re not obliged to reply if they aren’t feeling up to it.

Try to weigh the short term needs (keeping them comfortable on their own terms) against their long term priorities (encouraging them to actively address the problem and seek medical advice).

For more information on caring for somebody with anxiety – or dealing with it yourself – Beyond Blue has an incredibly helpful guide on the matter that we cannot recommend enough.

Do you deal with anxiety? Do you know somebody who does? We’re eager to hear from you. What advice would you give to the starts at 60 community?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. I appear to be doing all the right things,judging from this list,but there’s no understanding or tolerance of the problem in the home of this young teenager. I did suffer from terrible anxiety as a child also,and just as I see in this loved one,it can be absolutely crippling. She has been diagnosed,and of course medicated at one stage with anti depressants.there is no self image

  2. I was recently with a friend who had a panic attack.It came out of the blue after a meeting. She was visibly upset shaking and having pulpitations.and short of breath. We went somewhere quiet and I offered her water and spoke gently to her.But I just let it take it course, gave her space and talked her into slow breathing. It took some time before she was able to control her thaughts. I think by giving the person space and time and a gentle word helps. After that day I I asked her if she was ok if need b I was there to help.

    1 REPLY
    • You did exactly the right thing, bravo for you. Having had a Panic attack, out of the blue, wham, it was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced. I literally thought I was going mad, I had no control over my thoughts, I was lucky to have friends whoknew what to do, my doctor gave me a needle sedative straight away, thats how serious it was. Told me to see a counsellor who specialised in this field, actually, she suffers from anxiety herself.
      Had lessons in breathing and relaxation techniques, I cannot stress how important these techniques are. And then I had cognitive therapy, which is another wonderful aid.
      It took a long time, and I will never be free of it, there is no warning,, no reason, it is very debilitating, because of the adrenalin surge which drains you. , but you learn to cope. Water, soda water, camomile tea, soothing music for some people is very helpful. Saying a mantra if it got for me was saying the rosary, just the repetitive words was calming on one bad night.with the right kind of help from a professional,, or even speaking to Beyond blue, who have some great literature. Good luck

  3. Anxiety is fear of the future, we need to talk this stuff out with a good person or counsellor it helps so much. I know.

  4. All well and good – but – when ANYTHING you say, do, or offer, is met with unabating venom ????????

    2 REPLY
    • Vandra my psychologist gave me some good advice. You cannot control what other people say or do the only thing you can control is how you react to it. Myself I ignore nasty comments on this page and in the real world I avoid nasty people. If it is a family member (and I have one) in my case I live a long way away and don’t see them much. I don’t know what I would do if I lived close. I would have to develop some sort of coping mechanism.

    • Thanks Debbie. Mostly I am able to shrug it off, but sometimes, the only thing that helps (enormously) is to go away and shove my face in a pillow and scream. Then, deep breath and off we go again…….. Thank you again for your kind reply <3

  5. It can come on any one any place I have seen some mild and extreme cases. The main thing is to stay calm if you are present and just let the person know it is ok and you are there to help if needed. I think learning how to breath and what to do helps and what triggers the attacks can help some people.

  6. I suffer from anxiety. At Christmas I decided to take it head on. I made arrangements to volunteer at the local hospital. I have never been so scared in my life. I had to leave the house and drive to the hospital and meet a lot of new people. For me this was beyond huge. Talk about sweaty palms. But I did it. I now volunteer 2 days a week and it has turned my life around. I am gaining confidence in myself and I have a huge sense of well being because I feel I am making a difference in others lives. I still have panic attacks. Just had one earlier this morning but now I seem to be able to conquer them easier than before. I have found the confidence to join this page and state my opinion on various topics. You probably cannot realise what a massive leap this is and maybe some of you do. For me breaking free of the house was a huge step forward.

    5 REPLY
    • Good for you Debbie, very brave to push yourself and it’s paid off. I’m still in the thinking about it stage.

    • Debbie go for it. I know it is scary but so worth it. The hospital have just rung me about doing an extra shift next week. Marvellous to be wanted and appreciated. Get out there and go for it.

    • Thats awesome Debbie Bryant, very brave of you, I hope you continue to go on to a much happier life. I find social situations so difficult, and travelling on a plane has become a big issue, not the plane itself, just getting off and reconnecting with another flight, to get to Perth, I always ask ffor assistance now, when i land in Sydney, that has taken away a lot of the stress

  7. There are books written by Lyn Weekes..I would advise anyone with panic attacks etc to read them….they saved my life

    2 REPLY
  8. I used to suffer from anxiety. Now I take pills.

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