This guest post was contributed by Todd Griffin of TG Psychology in NSW. See bio below.
Anxiety disorders affect 14% of the adult population every year in western societies.
If you have never experienced an anxiety disorder yourself, it is likely that you know someone who does.
Anxiety is the term used to describe the emotional and physical response to a perceived threat. As you encounter obstacles in your daily life, anxiety is likely a common occurrence. However, it becomes problematic and classified as disordered when anxiety becomes intense, consistent, and disruptive. If someone you know has anxiety that is preventing them from living their life as usual, they may be struggling with an anxiety disorder.
When someone you love is struggling with intense anxiety, it can be just as taxing to your own system as the disorder is to theirs. Fortunately, there are many ways that you can support yourself while you are there for your loved one.
Seek professional help for your loved one.
If you suspect that your loved one has an anxiety disorder, or if they have received
an official diagnosis, encourage them to work with a licensed therapist or other healthcare professional. This takes the onus of diagnosing and treating your loved one from yourself and places that responsibility where it rightly belongs: in the hands of a mental health professional.
Working with a therapist will also help to provide confidence and clarity around the treatment plan. This will better enable you to provide support in helping your loved one to follow the plan, instead of second guessing how to treat the disorder on your own.
Find support for yourself.
If your loved one will not see a therapist, it may be beneficial for you to work through the issue with a therapist yourself in order to clarify your role and how you can best support.
Likewise, if caring for someone suffering from anxiety is causing you to feel an excessive sense of worry or keeping you in a stress state, it may be beneficial for you to seek help for yourself. This may come in the form of working with a therapist or in the form of a support group. You might also get creative in thinking of other ways that you would like to feel supported. Perhaps investing in a weekly house cleaning service will help you to feel less burdened, for example.
Prioritize self care.
You cannot take care of anyone else when your tank is empty – so take care of yourself first. Carve out regular time away from the person you are caring for if you can. This will help to provide a mental break.
Make time for exercise, particularly relaxing practices such as yoga. Focus on eating clean, whole foods that nourish your system. You might also try meditation, or calming activities such as regular reading. Ultimately, the goal is to find several activities that support your health and wellness, and that instill a sense of calm for you, so make time for them. They are just as important, if not more so, than your other appointments.
Dealing with someone suffering from intense anxiety can be a frustrating experience. Their emotions and reactions will likely seem irrational at times, and you will not be able to reason with them to calm down. It therefore becomes important to recognize that their reality is different from yours. What they are experiencing, however irrational it may seem to you, is very real to them.
The best way to cope with this is by practicing patience and empathy. Understand that they are not in control of their emotion, and neither are you. The only thing that you can control is your reaction. Focus on your breath and remain calm.
Likewise, effective treatment that addresses the root cause of their anxiety will likely take time. Recognizing that this will help you to manage your expectations and practice patience.
Helping a loved one through an anxiety disorder can be an incredibly trying time for both of you. In order to provide effective support to your loved one it is essential that you seek help for your loved one from a mental health professional, and that you seek out support for yourself as well. If you can remember to prioritize your own self care and make patience a guiding principle, you will be able to significantly decrease the stress associated with their care.
Todd is the Director and Principal Psychologist at TG Psychology, in Penrith, NSW. He has over 14 years of experience working with adults and young people in both public health and private practice settings. He has treated people from diverse cultural backgrounds, with a variety of emotional health and behavioural issues, including: depression, anxiety, relationship issues, anger, addictions, trauma and grief. HE has also facilitated a number of group programs, treating a wide range of issues: from quitting cannabis, to social skills training, self-esteem development and deliberate self harm behaviours.