Hiya friends, welcome back. I was talking to a friend the other day and she told me that a person she loves has been dealing with some anxiety lately and she wasn’t sure how to help. This obviously gave me the perfect idea of what to write about for Mental Monday.
As I sit here writing this I’m having anxiety issues, complete with a few lovely panic attacks. What better time to write this out? (Side Note: if you’re curious, writing calms my mind and keeps my hands busy, it’s a twofer.) What I’ve decided is people need a cheat sheet of sorts, to help them figure out how to help when someone they love has anxiety.
(Warning – This is a long one, my friends. You might want a snack or at least a drink. What follows is what helps me, and while it might not help every anxious person in your life, I’m sure mixing and matching them can work for some. Strong language may follow, I can’t seem to not cuss/swear/curse when talking about this.)
Ten Things to Know That Will Help You Love Someone with Anxiety
- Try to steer clear of phrases like “calm down,” any forms of telling them to relax, or sentences starting with “You just need to…”
As an anxious/panicky person, I can tell you right now, telling me to calm down does the exact fucking opposite. In fact, it brings the anxiety straight to the front of my brain where it beats on the glass and gets really fucking annoying. Telling me to relax pretty much has the same effect, trust me I’d relax if I knew how. Lastly by starting a sentence with “You just need to *insert really helpful idea here*” just makes me realize even more that you are fully witnessing my spiral into chaos. Even in the worst, deepest moments of my anxiety, there is still a little voice screaming from the back telling me to “BREATHE DAMMIT,” we know what we need to do.
- When/if they decide to tell you what the hell is going on in their brain, please for the love of all that is good in this world do not make them feel dumb, or weak.
Do you have any idea how much courage it takes to battle your brain every day? How many times it would be easier to let your brain win the war? Instead, you choose to push yourself out of bed every morning, or try to push yourself out of your comfort zone and fight back, that is not weakness. As for the dumb factor, we have called ourselves crazy enough for a lifetime, we don’t want to worry about those we love doing the same. It’s bad enough to know your brain is trying to sabotage everything without having to worry about judgment from someone you love enough to share your issues with.
- You don’t need to have all the answers to our problems, whether they are real or imagined.
We don’t even know all the little moving pieces of the shadow that follows us everywhere, we certainly don’t expect you to. I know in my vulnerable moments when I actually express the thoughts swirling in my brain, I’m not looking for someone to make sense of it or analyze it with/for me, I just want to share it with someone because when the thoughts are out in the open the shadow isn’t so scary. Think of it this way, it’s kind of like walking in the woods, if you’re with someone the darkness doesn’t seem so massive.
- It’s scary as fuck, for BOTH of us.
The feelings that happen in the height of an anxiety or panic attack scare us, even when we’re used to them. The first time you watch the person you love hyperventilate, or break down in tears, or shake so violently you worry there is something else wrong, is scary. That’s okay. It’s okay to tell us it scared you because then we can tell you it scared us as well. Like I said, being used to them doesn’t make them any less frightening.
- Pushing through isn’t always an option.
Sometimes the only thing you can do is curl up on the couch and watch the world move without you. In these moments, we might need your help, not in a physical way but emotionally, sit with us, hold us if we’ll let you. You don’t have to talk because sometimes words aren’t needed, just lend us some strength. It’ll help us find our way through, it gives us an anchor to hold onto until it’s over.
- Just because you love us, doesn’t mean you always have to like this part of us.
It’s completely okay to not like our anxiety. It’s a bitch when you plan something for weeks only to have the person you love bail on it because their busy fighting an internal war. Just because we can be overly emotional doesn’t mean we expect you to keep all yours concealed for fear of “triggering” us. If you’re mad, say it. If you’re hurt, say it. I know some won’t agree with me here, but I find it comforting to know I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by my anxiety/panic attacks. They get in the way, they’ve changed us, we know this, and when you admit you know it too we won’t hold it against you.
- Anxiety and panic attacks are not one size fits all.
When I’m about to spiral the same collection of things happen, but what happens to me might not be what happens to your person. Anxiety is about as diverse as people are, and it’s wise to remember that. Like I said at the beginning, some of these things might not work for them, but they will work for some. It just takes time, as shitty as that sounds, it takes time and patience to figure out what we need from you…which leads me nicely to the next bit.
- Have some patience.
I know this sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how often I have to remind people in my circle of what I’m about to share with you. I fight a battle every single day, I wage war on my brain and sometimes I even come out victorious. I’m used to battling alone, and I’m willing to bet yours is too. Walls go up when you worry about everything, reinforced by those before you who gave up on us because we’re too much. If you want those walls to come down and you want to be let into the inner workings of our anxiety, BE PATIENT! When we finally trust you, and it will happen, we will trust you with everything we have and then some. Don’t make them regret it.
- Feel free to do some research.
When I first was diagnosed I researched everything about anxiety and panic attacks. It’s completely normal to want to know more, and it might give you more insight into what’s going on when we can’t fully explain in the moment. Plus, it shows your anxious friend/SO/family member that you care enough to get yourself educated on the topic. Oh, as a side note it also opens a line of communication, which is huge. Once we see you’re taking us seriously, we’ll be more comfortable talking about it with you.
- Your support means EVERYTHING!
Support us when we tell you what we need. If they say they need to see a doctor to figure everything out, support them. If you’re at a party or out somewhere and they suddenly need to leave, support them. If they beg you to distract them from the weirdness happening in their brain…well, support doesn’t seem right here but just do it anyway. Trust me, every single anxious person will agree with this one, support is key. When they break through on the other side they’ll know you helped them through and words can’t express what that means. We know how to battle alone because anxiety is extremely isolating, but to have someone on your side makes it easier to keep fighting.
Just a little hint as well… Anxiety causes nervous energy, and when that’s focused on bad shit you’ve seen the destruction it can cause. Now imagine if that nervous energy was focused on their feelings for you. See what I’m getting at? We’re fiercely loyal, incredibly protective, and our emotions run deep. While having anxiety or loving someone with it can be a pain most times, it can also be rewarding.
There you have it, my cheat sheet. I hope this was helpful to you guys, because honestly writing it was a pain in the ass, but the silver lining is my anxiety seems to have passed. Until next time…