How to Support a Loved One Through Anxiety
Anxiety, fear, and panic have run rampant as our culture is experiencing volatility from all of the disruption we have faced in the past year. Many individuals are experiencing acute anxiety and panic attacks leaving loved ones feeling powerless in how to help them. Here are some guidelines in how to help a loved one find calm and feelings of safety through your connection:
Knowing the signs:
Anxiety and panic are powerful signals that there is an immediate threat to safety. A person experiencing anxiety or panic will typically cross their arms, tighten their shoulders, widen their eyes, have tension in their voice, have trouble sitting, will cry, and will come back to the same worries. Know that the mind follows the body. The body perceives a threat and the mind generates thoughts in trying to resolve the uncomfortable and overwhelming feelings. It is helpful to understand that the person is in no way choosing to feel this way. Their body is simply trying to protect themselves and will always choose to do so.
Human beings tend to adapt to their environment. Approaching a loved one in slow, intentional, and soothing vocal tones will help them to start internalizing that they are safe. A good rule is to never critique or shame someone for what they are experiencing, as it always makes it worse. Again, anxiety is distressing and no one chooses to feel this type of pain. They simply are in pain because their body is perceiving a threat, and they need to shelter in the connection of a loved and trusted person. Slow and low communication will help the person mirror your state of calm.
Empathy, Empathy, Empathy:
Empathy is the understanding or sharing in the feelings of another. When you approach a loved one a good tip is to simply be curious about what is going on. When you empathize in trying to locate the source of their pain or fear, you are letting them know that how they feel is important and worth soothing. Knowing and connecting is the focus, rather than doing or solving. By being curious you are letting them know that they are cared for. It is helpful to state that seeing them in pain is distressing to you, but that it's okay because of your love and care for them. Human beings can bear incredible stress and challenges through connection, but can only take on very little when isolated. Any feelings of safety you provide helps your loved one become stronger in the face of adversity.
Leaving the door open:
No one chooses to experience anxiety; they simply slip into that state. Often this occurs with little awareness of what is happening. It is likely that if a loved one is experiencing acute anxiety from recent events that they might continue to feel this way. That is okay and it is important to note that you are doing something to help, even if the person continues to feel anxious. I encourage you to leave the door open on your care and empathetic support. This will help the person understand that their felt sense of safety is not in jeopardy if they continue to experience distressing symptoms. It can also be draining to the person providing comfort and support. An empty cup cannot fill another. Try to keep yours filled through connection and self care through these uncertain times.
If you or a loved one is struggling to manage anxiety please reach out for a consultation. Anxiety is distressing but readily treatable. Stay healthy and safe.