Do you have the honour of loving someone?

A great friend, an awesome family member, a wonderful partner? Sure you do.

And one of the most challenging aspects of any relationship is watching them struggle — especially when that means dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety.

What’s even more challenging is knowing how to help or ease their pain. And if you’ve never been overwhelmed with anxiety yourself, it can be frustrating and confusing terrain to explore.

To help navigate some of the twists and turns, here are fifteen things you must always remember when trying to help them:

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They don’t want to feel this way

Trust me, nobody with anxiety is glad they have it. Nobody wants to walk through a mall and have a panic attack because there are too many people. Nobody wants to cry in the grocery store just because they can’t find salsa. Nobody wants to rock back and forth in a corner because their schedule overwhelmed them. Anxiety can be debilitating, embarrassing and inconvenient.

They can’t just “get over it”

If you don’t struggle with anxiety yourself, then this will be a difficult pill to swallow. Anxiety doesn’t just go away. Some thoughts can be crippling – even if they aren’t realistic. Unfortunately, anxiety is an upward, constant battle. It’s a work in progress every day. If we could “get over it,” then we WOULD. It just isn’t that easy.

It might exhaust them

After an anxiety attack, they might be exhausted. The emotional rollercoaster of a panic attack is tiring and uncomfortable. Be understanding if they need to take some quiet time or a nap after it.

It can be overwhelming for them

Part of the struggle of anxiety is getting anxious about the possibility of your anxiety (quite the paradox, we know).  Sometimes, we’re so worried anxiety will hit us that we GIVE ourselves anxiety. It’s a constant cycle, and it’s very overwhelming.

“Calm down” is not a fair or appropriate response

Anxiety is a physiological response. Telling somebody that is having a panic attack to “calm down” is the equivalent of telling somebody having a sneezing fit to stop sneezing.

Be patient with them

Everybody’s anxiety is different. It may take time for you to understand how their anxiety works. Sometimes, they may not even realize how their own anxiety works. Be patient with them and always know that it will get easier – and there will be times where it’s more manageable.

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Sometimes it may get worse or become more frequent

There may be times where their anxiety becomes more frequent or severe. This can be dependent on life events, season, support systems, etc. Like everything in life, anxiety comes in ebbs and flows. Eventually, it’ll lessen again. If it becomes too frequent or severe, suggest they see a doctor or psychologist.

Discuss a helpful game plan, just not during an anxiety attack

During an anxiety attack, they will be flustered, panicked and stressed. He/she may have a difficult time making sense of or verbalizing anything.

When your partner levels back out, take the opportunity to ask them what would help. Some people may need to be hugged – as pressure stimulates a calming sensation. Others may need to talk through it, or for nothing to be said at all.

Have an honest conversation and respect their boundaries and needs.

Having a comfortable routine may be vital for them

Many people with anxiety can become more overwhelmed when their schedule becomes too busy, erratic or spontaneous. Routine and a clear schedule may be what they need to provide them with comfort. If this is the case, try not to send last-minute plans their way.

Help them to remember to breathe – not condescendingly

During a panic attack, many people have trouble breathing. Breathing can become shallow, laboured and quick. Grabbing their attention and helping them match your breaths may help them balance back out. Likewise, getting them a paper bag so they can visualize their breaths may assist as well. Similarly, to tip #5, telling them to “just breathe” isn’t helpful.

Relax with them or encourage them to relax

Self-care is key to people that suffer from anxiety. Taking the proper measures to relax may help reduce the severity or frequency of anxiety attacks. Suggest staying in instead of going out one night. Run them a bath. Encourage them to do something that’ll ease their stress.

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Try to learn their triggers

This step may take some time to accomplish. Try to determine what causes anxiety in the person you love. Some people may become anxious over a hectic schedule, crowds or a busy mall, stress from work or school, or toxic relationships/friendships. Get to know things that may trigger a panic attack and avoid those circumstances, or provide calming or coping mechanisms if something is unavoidable.

Let them talk it out

Sometimes verbalizing a stressor is enough to release it. Let them babble – even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Provide a safe, non-judgemental and understanding space for them to release what they’re feeling.

Sometimes they feel guilty, which makes them more anxious – teach them not to

We feel guilty about our anxiety! We feel like we might be a burden to the people we love, and that can stress us out more. It wasn’t our intention to ruin our plans or overtake our conversation with breath sounds and gibberish. The best thing you can do is trying to help the person you love not to feel guilty. Assure them that you’re there for them and that you love them.

They appreciate your support

Sometimes what they needed was somebody they cared about to take a moment to understand and care for them. Having a support system is one of the most critical things in overcoming and handling anxiety.

You must respect your own boundaries too

You can’t pour from an empty cup. It is so kind and loving that you want to be there for them all the time, but the last thing they want is for you to wear yourself down trying to help them. Keep track of your own mental health as well, and make sure you aren’t overextending yourself. If you feel that the help they need is beyond your capabilities, point them in the direction of a mental health professional.

To wrap this up, we know it might be difficult loving someone with anxiety – but we promise it’s worth it. Both of you will learn how to cope with the ups and downs of their mental health.

Written by Celina Dawdy