How to be an Ally for Loved Ones Facing Anxiety

The number of people in the world with anxiety disorders has been climbing quickly in recent years. As someone that has struggled with an anxiety disorder, I know first hand how some people look at you when you tell them you are struggling with a mental health problem. If anxiety is on the rise, why are there still so many people who stand in judgment? Why does it still feel taboo to talk openly about mental health problems? It's time to speak up. The first hurdle to jump is teaching people what anxiety is and what they can do to help.

What Is It?

Anxiety can be caused by a large number of factors from loosing a loved one, to extreme stress at work. Panic attacks and anxiety symptoms can pop up out of the blue, or start due to something triggering them; however, anxiety is more than a panic attack. It's more than someone shaking and hyperventilating like popular movies and television shows like to depict. Depending on the person, anxiety symptoms can include: shaking, elevated heart rate, lightheadedness, chest pain, heart skipping, headaches, numbness in extremities, etc. Sound scary? Imagine dealing with those symptoms every single day. It can be terrifying. The person suffering through these symptoms isn't choosing to be that way. They don't want the anxiety, so why judge them as if it were their fault?

Anxiety can range from mild to extremely severe. Just because a person doesn't always show it, doesn't mean that they aren't struggling. Be kind and try not to judge someone until you take the time to talk to them and try to understand what they are going through. 

How To Help

The best way to help someone struggling with anxiety is to be kind. If you know someone struggling with anxiety, simply reaching out and letting them know you want to help is a great first step. Knowing you're not alone can make a huge difference, and kindness goes a long way. 

Don't make the person with anxiety feel bad for seeking counseling/therapy, or using prescribed medication to manage their symptoms. That might be the only way that they can get through their day to day lives. Try to understand that relaxing isn't always a fix for anxiety. 

Often times distractions can help someone who is having a panic attack. Try a technique called crowding. Make a list A-Z of different topics like things you find in a grocery store, or animals you see in a zoo. Make the lists challenging, but not so much that it takes more than a minute or two to come up with an answer. Focusing on the task of creating the list with a partner can help pull someone out of a panic attack. Once the distraction is gone anxiety can return, but it can help (even if just for a few minutes). 

Be understanding, and do the research before passing judgment. For those of you with anxiety, keep fighting.

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