Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree, but for some people, anxiety is strong enough, recurring enough, and present enough to seriously interfere with the quality of their lives. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders affect approximately 18 percent of United States adults, and are cumulatively the most common mental health illness in the country.
To make matters worse, there is no cure for anxiety; instead, its effects can only be mitigated through treatment and the support of friends, family, and community members. Still, only about one-third of anxiety sufferers are currently undergoing formal treatment, so we owe it to our community members to step up and be available for support in any way we can.
Comforting Someone With Anxiety
So how can you comfort someone with anxiety, or help prevent their illness from interfering with their day-to-day life?
1. Understand anxiety disorders. First, don’t presume anything about the person suffering from anxiety. There are actually many different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Everyone experiences symptoms to different degrees of severity, and in different situations, and has different ways of coping with those symptoms. Assuming that you know what someone else is going through is a surefire way to lose someone’s trust. Instead, learn what you can about risk factors and symptoms of the disorder, and remain open so you can truly understand what this individual is going through.
2. Find helpful strategies and products. There are many different strategies for tackling anxiety. Some are basic lifestyle changes, including eating healthier foods and avoiding substances like caffeine and alcohol. Some revolve around the use of popular products, such as aromatherapy or weighted blankets to create calmer atmospheres. However, you also need to remember that different people respond to treatments in different ways; what works for you or another community member may not work for this individual. Don’t pressure someone to try something they aren’t interested in, but feel free to offer suggestions if they’re looking for relief.
3. Give space. Even if you genuinely want to help someone, your overt attempts to help may end up doing more harm than good. When someone experiences social anxiety, trauma-related memories, or other forms of anxiety, the mere presence of other people can complicate their reactions. Instead, when someone is experiencing intense emotions, give the person their space, and only address them when they appear open to help. It’s also important to ask the person what, if anything, they’d like help with; some will prefer to handle their issues alone. Instead of giving directions, give an open invitation for your availability as a resource.
4. Recommend resources. You may also be able to find or recommend outside resources for the individual in question. You may be available emotionally and spiritually, but there are people in your community more equipped to handle the situation than you are. Some people might not be aware that these resources exist, or may be afraid or too unsure to seek them out on their own. Again, you don’t want to pressure someone to seek these resources; instead, your job is to merely let them know that they’re available.
5. Engage spiritually. Finally, remember that you are connected through your faith. The Word of God can be of great comfort during times of distress, as can prayer and spiritual support. If you aren’t able to help someone intellectually or emotionally, you should still be able to support them spiritually. Every individual will have their own path to walk, but you can help guide them on that path, and strengthen their faith and engagement in the community.
Finding Support in Your Own Community
You may be on the other side of the fence, experiencing the hardships of an anxiety disorder yourself. If that’s the case, know that you have the support of your community behind you. Talk to someone you trust at your congregation, or even in your neighborhood, and share your struggles openly. Just talking about the problem can offer some measure of relief.
However, if anxiety is beginning to cause significant issues in your life—such as interfering with your career or familial relationships—it’s a good idea to seek professional help as well. Don’t be afraid to admit you need assistance; there are more than 40 million people in this country in the same position.