418: How to support a loved one who's living with anxiety
This week's episode, by request, is for the people who love someone living with anxiety. We'll be talking about what anxiety sufferers go through and how you can help.
Points discussed in this episode include:
What anxiety feels like and how it affects thinking and decision making
The importance of hearing without judgement and trying not to fix things
What you can do to help someone going through an anxiety episode
To download this episode right click here
Supporting a loved one with anxiety starts with empathy
Empathy means putting your own stuff aside for a while and allowing the experience of another without judgement.
Empathy means holding space, it means showing that you care with your words and your actions. Be open to hearing and not rushing in to speak or fix.
Empathy is not auditing another's experience. One of the quickest ways to isolate somebody needing support is to expect them to respond to how you think they should. You cannot know what another is experiencing, and you cannot help them unless you honour their experience.
Anxiety causes real suffering
Here are some symptoms of an anxiety attack: a pounding heart, gasping for breath, feeling faint and light-headed, nausea, sweating and shaking.
Anxiety has a definite physical set of symptoms, and they are not to be taken lightly.
Nearly 25% of emergency calls in the UK requesting an ambulance are related to the symptoms of anxiety. No-one calls an ambulance unless something is happening in their body that feels serious.
Anxiety can strike without warning
Anxiety can strike randomly and without warning. Consider how that might feel to your friend or loved one.
Anxiety triggers flight, fight or freeze in the body. It sends stress hormones pumping through the body that can make someone freeze on the spot, or want to run away.
It is not a case of somebody being dramatic or high-maintenance. It is a case of genuine suffering with very definite physical symptoms.
Never think it’s JUST anxiety. Know that anxiety is genuine suffering. It’s easy to think we’d know how to cope if it was us - until it is us!
Anxiety causes confusion
Someone caught in anxiety might not know what they need if you ask them.
They may be completely caught up in the experience of anxiety, or an anxiety attack, and may not be able to respond or gather their thoughts.
Try to understand that during high episodes of anxiety this is not under their control. They are not being awkward or deliberately unclear, they may genuinely not know what they need because their mind and heart are racing.
One of the most commonly expressed wishes of those living with anxiety, or invisible illness is that others might know what it felt like. Because if you could feel it for yourself, you would never judge anyone living with anxiety again.
Empathy is the genuine willingness to accept the experience of another. You might not feel anxiety yourself, you might not understand anxiety yourself, but you can listen and respect the suffering of another.
And you can learn how to help too, and that's what we’ll be covering in the rest of this episode.
How you can help
Let your loved one know you are here for them.
Sit with them and match your breathing rate to theirs, then gradually slow your breathing making your exhalation long and drawn out.
After a minute or two, you might offer to help them with a breathing practice.
Combining the following simple techniques gives you something practical to offer that will help calm anxiety.
The Calm Point: help your friend or loved one use this acupressure point for calming anxiety. Press the thumb of your right hand firmly into the centre of the palm of your left hand and gently encourage your loved one to follow along with you.
The Long Exhale: after a few moments practice counting breaths with them. Breathing in for the count of four, holding for two, and sighing their breath out for a count of seven.
Repeat for a few minutes. Don't rush, allow time.
Other simple acts of kindness:
Bring them a cup of calming tea
Put a couple of drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue and bring it for them to inhale.
Break Down the Barriers
Anxiety can be incredibly lonely. Sometimes family and friends are scared to reach in and often the anxiety sufferer is scared to reach out. But connection is essential in overcoming anxiety, so offer a hug, a rub on the back, or to hold their hand and connect.
Let your loved one know you care by your physical presence and help them feel safe and grounded.
“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
– Dr Brené Brown
Learn EFT Tapping
Tapping is a very effective technique proven to calm anxiety.
If your friend, or loved one, is suffering with anxiety you can sit with them and, with their consent, practice using the EFT Tapping points on your own body for their benefit.
Here’s how to do it:
Go to our EFT Tapping page at anxietyslayer.com/eft and look at the diagram showing the Tapping points.
Now sit with whoever you wish to support and make contact with them. You might hold their hand, or rest your hand on their arm and start Tapping the EFT meridian points on your own body.
Start by tapping the point on the top of your head and working your way down ending at the underarm point. Keep Tapping for about 5 minutes or until your loved one feels calm and in control again.
This supportive method of Tapping for another has helped hundreds of people through anxiety attacks.
It also helps build empathy and connection in a relationship.
Get one of our courses and learn the techniques. Download the audio and relaxations included to an MP3 player and give it as a gift.
Buy some Rescue Remedy, lavender oil, or calming tea and give them as a gift.
Don't try and fix it. Anxiety needs love, patience and understanding.
See the Bigger Person Beyond their Anxiety
Hold in your heart what you love about this individual soul who happens to be living with anxiety.
Your loved one may be suffering from anxiety, but they are not just anxiety; they have many talents, roles, and character traits. Let them know that you see them and appreciate them beyond their anxiety.
If you find them funny - tell them.
If you find them kind - tell them.
If you can remember times when they’ve shown courage or wisdom - tell them.
Anxiety feels like it takes over everything, but from the outside, you can see more than the symptoms, so be sure to offer positive, heartfelt encouragement.
Get Equipped to Help
When anxiety strikes, it sets off a vicious cycle of symptoms that are hard to stop: rapid breathing, racing heart, dizziness, shaking and more. As the sufferer acknowledges these symptoms, they escalate and can quickly spiral out of control. You can help your friend or loved one by learning some practical techniques to help them feel safe and calm again. Once you've mastered the skills you can use them for yourself, your kids, and other family and friends.
Find out more about the resources mentioned in this podcast: