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How to help someone with anxiety?

Anxiety is the general term for several disorders that causes nervousness, worrying, and apprehension. This can affect the way people think and behave, and may even affect their physical health. Mild and temporary stress over a new experience, test, or performance is considered normal, and even healthy. However, if the worried or stressed feeling is prolonged and interrupts daily activities such as sleeping, then it is considered a problem.

Anxiety disorders come in several different forms. The most common ones are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias, separation anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.

If you have a loved one with anxiety, dealing with them can be very challenging. You may know they need help, but be unsure of how to do that. Helping them incorrectly could even increase the problem.

So what can you do? First of all, you should try to understand how they feel. Their nervousness isn’t the same as your temporary nervousness – it’s much more complicated than that. Anxiety disorders can cause severe mental distress, chest pains, and heart palpitations similar to those experienced during a heart attack. Most disorders do not need a trigger; the afflicted person will have anxiety attacks for seemingly no reason. Many also fear their anxiety, which creates an endless loop of anxiety because of their anxiety.

Anxiety disorders change the chemical nature of the brain, causing the person to think negatively at almost all times and suppressing their ability to think positively. This makes seeking help very hard, and means that he or she cannot overcome their anxiety alone. They require the support of family, friends, and – in many cases – mental health professionals such as counselors and psychiatrists.

Everyone is different, and thus the approach needing to be taken in order to overcome emotional problems may also vary. Nonetheless, the following pointers should help you to give them the support they need.

  • Let the person know that you are happy to help them. Gain their trust and show them that they can tell you anything without fear of judgement or overreaction.
  • Don’t get annoyed. They may tell very long stories, and may sometimes even repeat the same thing over and over again, but remain patient and give them your full attention.
  • Show them that you care and are available any time they need you. People with anxiety often feel that they are alone, that no one likes them or cares about them.
  • Keep your loved one accompanied when possible. When they are with someone, they’re less likely to think about their worries.
  • Don’t simply tell them to ‘get over it’ or that ‘it (their fears) won’t happen’. Remember: anxiety disorders cause worries, and not all worries are logical. Most of the time, they already know that their problems are not real, but due to their altered brain chemistry, they still find it hard to overcome them.
  • Keep them naturally busy and engaged in an activity they’re interested it. Never tell them to get busy, though, as this only gives them something new to worry about.
  • Don’t remind them that they have anxiety issues. Remembering will only increase the frequency of anxiety attacks and cause them to feel judged.
  • Don’t treat them as though they’re brittle or sick. Like anyone, being treated differently could lower their self-esteem and thus make their symptoms worse.
  • Anxiety is a form of panic, and thus can make people irritable or rude. Be calm and forgive them if they say or do anything hurtful to you.
  • People with anxiety will often find temporary solutions like alcohol and drugs to suppress their problems. Discourage them, and explain the harm they can cause to themselves mentally, socially, and physically. Try not to be judgmental, only supportive.
  • Take him or her to a mental health professional if the problem is severe, if he or she will not open up to you or others, or if he or she does not show progress.

Improving their condition needs time, but most people will eventually overcome their anxiety. Be happy for them when they do. Meanwhile, you will have to be careful; staying around an anxious person can cause you develop your own anxiety through picking up negative thinking habits. So always think positive and be mentally strong.

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