Social anxiety, and anxiety. They can cause all sorts of confusion and make life a bit unpredictable. But it’s not only the people who have anxiety that experience the emotional hardships. If you are currently, or have been in a relationship with someone who has anxiety or social anxiety, then you too have felt the mentally-demanding effects alongside them.
Read: Worry and anxiety linked to high IQ?
Accommodating the needs of someone with anxiety can be confusing if you have never experienced the issue yourself. Sometimes plans have to be altered in a moment’s notice, and emotional responses to things can change daily.
1. KEEP IN MIND THAT ANXIETY IS A NORMAL PHYSICAL RESPONSE TO THE BRAIN BEING SLIGHTLY OVERPROTECTIVE.
We all have a “fight or fight” adrenal response within us. It’s a primitive part of our brains. However, those with anxiety have that response triggered a little easier than others. When that trigger is released, cortisol floods the system, causing a stress response.
2. ANXIETY CAN SOMETIMES BE IRRATIONAL. AND THEY KNOW THAT.
Simply being aware of how irrational a thought is, isn’t enough to stop those “worst-case scenarios” from racing through the brain. If telling themselves, “that’s completely irrational- no use stressing about it,” could fix anxiety issues, no one would have these problems. But that’s not how it works.
Those with anxiety already know that some of their thoughts are irrational, and they don’t need anyone else pointing that out. Instead, what they need is compassion and understanding.
3. “ARE YOU OKAY?” IS NOT HELPFUL WHEN SOMEONE IS PANICKING.
If you are around someone who is having a panic attack, you do not need to ask them if they are okay. You (and they) already know the answer. Their chest tightens and breathing becomes strained, their heart is racing, and their body shakes from the surge of adrenaline rushing through their limbic system. Instead of asking if they are okay, use your words for something more constructive, like:
- “Remember to breathe.” (Try ‘breath-coaching’ and breathe with them)
- “What can I do to help?”
- “You have gotten through this before. You will get through this too.”
- “I am here for you.”
One of the most important things to remember when someone is panicking is this: if they asked to be left alone, leave them alone. Some people handle anxiety better by themselves.
4. UNDERSTAND THAT WHEN THEY TELL YOU “NO,” IT’S NOT PERSONAL.
Read: 5 Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Social Situations
Those with anxiety are always aware of everything going on around them- even things that may possibly happen. So if you are offering to go hang out at a certain place, or go to dinner at that new joint down the road, don’t take “no” personally. Just because they may not want to do what you are doing, doesn’t mean they don’t want you be in your company. They are saying no to the possibility of an anxiety attack, not to you. Try to be understanding of this, and don’t get offended or annoyed.
5. THEY TIRE MORE EASILY THAN YOU REALIZE.
Anxiety is exhausting. Unless you have anxiety, you do not know how tired it can make you feel. This happens because anxiety causes the body to live in hyper-tense states. Their mind is always on the go, they are constantly on alert, and the body is ever-ready with that fight or flight response. This amount of hypertension causes adrenal fatigue. A situation that you may be able to breeze through is more tiring for someone with anxiety.
6. UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘CONTROLLING THEIR ENVIRONMENT’, AND ‘CONTROLLING YOU.’
Having anxiety means you will try to control everything that could go wrong in a situation. It is very hard work. Trying to make yourself feel safe in your environment is paramount. Those with anxiety aren’t trying to control you, they are trying to control their anxiety attacks. Sometimes this comes across the wrong way, and you may get frustrated, but remember: it’s nothing personal. Try to talk things out gently, and do your best to refrain from criticism.
7. ANXIETY DOESN’T ALWAYS LOOK THE SAME.
One day a person with anxiety may be outwardly showing more fear, the next day they might appear more frustrated. Anxiety changes day to day, and it’s important to remember that. If someone seems extra-cranky or depressed, be compassionate and remind them you are on their side.
8. ANXIETY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH COURAGE.
Read: 4 Ways to Effectively Deal with Anxiety
There is a common misconception about anxiety- that those who have it are weak, or lack courage. This could not be further from the truth.
Courage is pushing past the edge – moving beyond the limits. While we all have limits, those with anxiety are more aware of theirs. And this means that they are always facing up to the things that push them. Admitting our limits takes courage, and people with anxiety have loads of it. Knowing what triggers their anxiety stems from lots of introspection and extrospection, which has it’s benefits too. All of this examination causes these people to be more sensitive to the things around them. They are just as sensitive to you as they are to the world around them- and this makes them some of the best people to be around.
9. THEY CAN (AND WILL) TELL YOU HOW THEY FEEL, BUT YOU NEED TO LISTEN.
Just because someone has anxiety, it doesn’t mean they can’t talk about how they feel. Communication happens when they are ready. And if they are ready, please listen to them. Usually, those with anxiety have opened up in the past and been met with disregard. This causes more worry and stress about speaking up. Next time, give them a chance to speak, and take the time to listen.
10. LET THEM KNOW THERE IS ALWAYS AN “OUT.”
Living in a hyper-tense state is one of the biggest contributors to anxiety. Continuously being aware of everything is overwhelming, and what seems fun to you may be a sensory-nightmare to someone with anxiety. If you are planning an evening out, or an adventurous afternoon, always let them know they can leave at any time. Remove the possible feeling of being trapped by ensuring they have an out.
11. THEY ARE AWESOME, AND THAT’S WHY WE LOVE THEM.
It’s easy to become consumed with the bleak and dreary parts of any issue, but a big part of overcoming that is to remember the person more than the issue itself. Remembering the amazing person you love is part of the process.
Choose the see the positive in situations. Choose to see the bright side.
Choose to see the awesomeness in them, and they will see it too.
These are the 11 things I have come up with as a basic reminder to keep handy when loving someone with anxiety. Although I believe these will help most of you, it is safe to say that we are all unique individuals and what works for some may not work for others. But there is one thing that DOES work for everyone, and it helps more people than you know- loving compassion. Even if you don’t understand what triggers anxiety, and if you don’t know what to do to help, being there and being sensitive to their issues will be appreciated.
Do you or someone you know have social anxiety or anxiety? What methods have you found to help? Let us know about your experiences, in the comments below.