Helping someone with a mental health condition like generalized anxiety disorder can be difficult but it doesn’t have to be. You can be an effective support with these tips.
Watching a friend or relative struggle with anxiety can be taxing. While traditional treatment options for anxiety, like therapy and a medication management plan, can do wonders to treat anxiety, a consistent support network can be an integral part of recovery. Family members and friends who learn how to help someone with generalized anxiety disorder can become a part of a person’s recovery support network.
Helping someone with an anxiety disorder can seem overwhelming, but learning a few tips and guidelines can make it more manageable. Further, asking how to help a friend with anxiety can open the door for the person with anxiety to explain what kind of support they need.
7 Ways to Support a Loved One With Generalized Anxiety Disorder
There are a few general tips on how to support someone with anxiety. Following these guidelines can help you be a supportive aid as your loved one copes with anxiety.
Listening may seem obvious but can be challenging. Active listening requires providing an empathetic ear without getting frustrated or annoyed. Offering suggestions or merely offering to continue listening can be surprisingly difficult at times. Remember to avoid making assumptions or judgments about a person’s feelings and what may have caused their anxiety. Stay calm and be patient when listening.
Talking candidly about anxiety may be challenging for your loved one. Remember this and do not expect them to share everything immediately. Be sure to consider what the person says about how they are willing to accept support and assistance. Respect the boundaries that they have set for themselves, and don’t force them to accept your help.
2. Educate Yourself
Learn about anxiety — both in milder forms and as a clinical diagnosis — to increase your understanding about this condition. Become familiar with generalized anxiety disorder and its associated symptoms. Learn about the treatment and prevention of anxiety to provide supportive suggestions. Discuss personal triggers and high-risk situations to be aware when a person may need additional support.
3. Seek Help
If you are very close to someone who has generalized anxiety disorder, you could consider seeking support yourself. Having a professional to help navigate the frustrations of supporting a person with a mental health concern can help you avoid burnout. Enlisting outside help may also increase your understanding of your loved one’s point of view.
4. Don’t Minimize Their Struggles
Statements such as, “Stop worrying,” and, “It’s not that big of a deal,” and, “You have no reason to be anxious,” are unhelpful and can be hurtful. A person with an anxiety disorder is generally aware of the fact that their anxiety has reached an irrational level. As a loved one, you pointing out this fact can lead to more negative self-judgments and discomfort on your loved one’s part.
Instead, find out what support is needed by asking, “How can I be helpful?” or offer statements of support such as, “I am here with you,” “It sounds like you are having a tough time,” or “You seem overwhelmed, let me know if you need anything.”
5. Offer to Be an Accountability Partner
Effective coping strategies for anxiety exist but may sometimes seem overwhelming if they are out of a person’s comfort zone. Having a supportive accountability partner can increase the likelihood of engaging in these positive activities.
For example, physical activity is beneficial for people with generalized anxiety disorder. It can be helpful to realize and accept the impairments of anxiety and adjust your suggestions as necessary. Going to the gym or running a race may be helpful for some people but not for others. You can start small and then modify your suggestions as the person grows more comfortable with exercise. For example, suggest going on a walk outside together or doing a gentle yoga video at home.
6. Encourage Self-Care
Basic self-care habits, such as getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and staying active, are often forgotten when a person is struggling with a mental health condition. Returning to these self-care basics can improve your loved one’s well-being significantly. Additionally, consider if your loved one has any lifestyle habits that may be getting in the way of good self-care and contributing to anxiety, such as excessive caffeine intake.
7. Watch for Potential Co-occurring Disorders
Approximately 20 percent of people who have an anxiety disorder also have a drug or alcohol addiction (often referred to as a substance use disorder). Be aware of your loved one’s alcohol intake and their drug use — including the prescription medications they take and if they are using any illicit drugs.
When a person struggles with co-occurring generalized anxiety disorder and substance use, treatment is more likely to be successful if both disorders are treated together.
Supporting Someone in Finding Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Help is available for people who are struggling with anxiety. However, the nature of generalized anxiety may prevent people from seeking treatment. Anxiety can be treated using therapy, medication or some combination of the two. While a loved one may ask for advice regarding which type of treatment to accept, remember that anxiety is a medical condition, and any significant decisions about treatment should include input from a professional.
However, don’t pressure someone to seek treatment for anxiety. If a person has not stated a desire to begin any form of therapy, broaching the subject should be done very carefully. Going against someone’s wishes may make their anxiety worse and invalidate their feelings. Avoid judgment when speaking to a loved one about their mental health and treatment. Respect the privacy of others and do not bring up treatment in a public setting.
If a person agrees that therapy could be helpful, offer support in taking the first steps. It may be useful to assist in locating treatment options. Offering assistance while calling providers may also relieve some of the anxiety about reaching out. A person may feel more comfortable going to therapy or a doctor if you offer to go with them and sit in the waiting room. Regardless of the action taken, remember to reaffirm your willingness to be supportive.
The Recovery Village provides treatment to individuals with substance abuse issues and co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse and has co-occurring anxiety, reach out to a representative to begin the treatment process.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.” (n.d.) Accessed February 4, 2019.
Jones, Mike. “How To Encourage Someone To See A Therapist.” November 20, 2017. Accessed February 4, 2019.
Medline Plus. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder- Self Care.” May 12, 2017. Accessed February 4, 2019.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Yoga: In Depth.” November 8, 2018. Accessed February 4, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Control.” 2016. Accessed February 4, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.