Counsellor Sarah Barr gives five pieces of guidance on supporting a loved one who is struggling with anxiety.

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Anxiety is unpredictable, confusing and frightening. It is tough not just for the person who has it but for those who love them. If you are one of those people, you may know how difficult it can be to watch your loved one go through it.

We all have our own story and our own ‘stuff’ and at times we can struggle. The difference with anxiety is the struggle can be more visible. It can take hold of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour; affecting you on a daily basis.

 If someone you know and love is struggling with anxiety here are some points to remember:

1. Understanding

There is a primitive part of our brain that senses threat. Anxiety sufferers can believe there is a threat a lot sooner, with less evidence. When this happens the stress hormone (cortisol) and adrenaline prepare the body to fight or flight.

As a result irrational and fearful thoughts can be triggered. You can reassure and comfort them, however professional help may be needed. CBT is offered by some counsellors and can be beneficial in re-framing negative and irrational thoughts and fears.

2. Be Present

By simply being there it will remind them that they are not alone, which can help lower their anxiety. Some people have fears of being abandoned or alone. Your support and encouragement will give them security and comfort.

Patience is so important when you love someone with anxiety. It takes time to overcome a mental illness like anxiety, but it is possible. By being there and supporting your loved one it can help them in overcome their anxiety.

3. Do not judge

People with anxiety know that they have irrational thoughts. They do not need to be told that they are being ‘ridiculous’ or ‘irrational’. By listening you can help your loved one open up and talk freely about how he or she is feeling. Sometimes talking about anxiety can be a great tactic in overcoming it.

4. Recognise the Anxiety Monster

Anxiety can sometimes be a monster, it can steal the joy from every moment. At times it can completely take over your loved one’s personality.

It is so important to remember that this is not our loved one’s true self. It is the anxiety. There will be bad days, there will be dark days and it is important to understand this. Believe that your loved one will come back to themselves again.

Believe that your loved one will come back to themselves again.


5. Panic Attack

In the middle of an anxiety attack you can help. Go somewhere where it is quieter and more private. Remember it will pass and it’s important to stay calm and support them through it.

This simple grounding technique can help.

Ask them to look around and identify:

  • 5 things they see
  • 4 things they feel
  • 3 things they hear
  • 2 things they smell
  • 1 thing they taste

Overall remember how important you are to your loved one. Being there helping, supporting and encouraging will strengthen your relationship.

However don’t forget about you. Have you got someone you can offload to? Do you give yourself enough self-care?

If you feel your loved one or yourself would benefit from CBT or talking to someone I can be contacted via my Facebook page or calling 086 447 7867. Availability in Letterkenny and Moville.

Take Care~ Sarah.