Anxiety is a tricky little devil. Sometimes I can feel it coming on slowly, but other times it can sneak up on me completely out of nowhere. I know the types of things that trigger me- sometimes I can navigate them without too much struggle, but other times I go into full-blown panic attack. My anxiety is difficult for me to deal with, so I KNOW its even more challenging for the people in my life to try and figure out…so here are my tips for responding when you know someone you care about is feeling anxious:
Suggest a change of scenery: sometimes the environment is what is triggering my anxious feelings. A crowded mall, a noisy restaurant, or an unfamiliar place can all be huge triggers for me. If you notice me feeling anxious suggest heading home or just going somewhere calmer and more comfortable.
Don’t tell me to relax or calm down: I know you mean well, but it’s never just that easy. Even if the situation might not seem so bad to you, my mind and body are perceiving things very differently. It may seem like I am reacting for no reason, but it only makes me more upset when someone tells me just to relax.
Let me know that it’s ok: Assure me that my feelings are ok. When I start feeling anxious my head begins spinning into a frenzy of thoughts, and when I’m with other people usually a majority of them are “crap now I’m ruining everyone else’s good time…” Letting me know that you aren’t mad, and that it’s totally ok for me to feel however I do is hugely helpful.
Make me laugh: They say laughter is the best medicine! Tell a joke, do something silly, reminisce about a funny time we had together. Even just a genuine smile will help me start to feel a little better.
Know that you don’t have to fix it: I love you for wanting to help, but constantly trying to give “solutions” may really not be what I need. Going back to letting me know that it’s ok: sometimes I just need to let the anxious feelings come and go and you recognizing that no one needs to try and fix things is super important
Let’s take a walk: Offer to go for a little walk. A change of scenery, some fresh air, and a little movement can really help calm anxious feelings.
Take the lead: When my mind is buzzing from one anxious thought to the next the worst thing is to just try and stuff more thoughts in there. Don’t give me too many options or ask me to make too many decisions. Suggesting one or two things will be a lot easier for me to work with than listing off 10 different options, or blankly asking what I want.
Avoid changing plans: One of the most commonly used methods of coping with anxiety is planning. If I know going into a situation that makes me anxious what the plan is, I feel a little better about it…but derailing that plan can send my anxiety into a spiral. This is as much a way to help avoid triggering anxiety as it is a response to my already anxious feelings- just try to avoid changing plans at the last minute or on the fly.
Feed me my anxiety food: When I’m feeling anxious my stomach responds in one of two ways- I either can’t bear the thought of food, or I need something really specific to help me feel calmer. For me, my “anxiety food” is smoothies or milkshakes. Learning your loved ones’ anxiety foods and offering to go get those when you notice the emotions flaring up will be a hugely appreciated gesture.
Play my anxiety music: Similar to having an anxiety food, I also have my favorite music/soundtracks to listen to when I’m feeling anxious. For example, flying makes me SUPER anxious, and I always listen to The Greatest Showman soundtrack on repeat when I’m at the airport or on the plane…something about it just makes me feel better. When I’m not flying, but still feeling anxious, my other go-to music to help myself feel better is anything by Zac Brown Band.
Ask what I need: I know I said don’t give me too many options, but asking what I need, or if there is anything specific you can do for me is sometimes very effective. I might tell you I need a hug, or I might tell you I just need some space (please don’t be offended). I also might say I don’t know, and if that’s the answer, resort to some of the other options above (i.e. food, music, or walk)
Just be supportive: Let me know that you care. Be supportive. Understand if I need some space. If my anxiety feels tough on you, imagine how much I am struggling with it. It will pass, and while I may not be able to show it in the moment, I will appreciate you so much for doing your best to be there for me 🙂