A person working through an emotional time might not always let you know it. We all have those few people we are super honest with; the ones we feel comfortable ranting to and crying with. Each of us likely have 1, 2, maybe 3 or 4 people that we trust enough to be that vulnerable around. You are likely that person for 1, 2, maybe 3 or 4 people in your life. Now consider how many people you have in your life, in your circle of friends, in your family. How many people would you bare your true soul to?
We all have people in our lives who are secretly or not-so-secretly working through an emotional time right now. Those people may or may not be 100% open and honest with you and that’s fine. They are doing the best they can with what they know. You don’t have to be a key part of their healing, that’s up to them. They will be their own healers. All us outsiders can do is support them.
1. Be There
Be there. You don’t even have to talk. You can just be. Be there. Or you can get outside for a walk, drink tea, go dancing, call just to chat about the latest episode of your favourite show. There are so many ways you can support a person without making it about the anxiety. They are still human and their world might be hectic enough without another person wanting to know all the intimate details of their emotions. So just be. Be there. And give your friend or loved one the space to be open if they choose to be. Don’t expect a big revelation or sob fest; be there selflessly – not for a reaction or praise but – to give this person a sense of freedom and a mini break from their own chaotic reality.
2. Listen Carefully
If you’re more intimately connected to a person who is emotionally overwhelmed right now, this one is especially for you. You probably see them or at least speak with them regularly; you either know something is “off” or you know the whole story. Either way, listen carefully to the dialogue of your friend or loved one. Don’t try to dissect everything they say, but notice patterns. For example, if they often say something along the lines of “my life is far from perfect” or “not that we have a ton of money”, these may identify what is at the forefront of their mind lately.
Anxiety is a bit of everything and we can’t always attach it to one stress in our lives, but usually there is something bigger than the rest. Pay attention to the way they use sarcasm, the “jokes” they make, the reasons they don’t want to do things or the reasons they do want to do things. If you feel they have something they are ready to express then create a safe space and ask them about it. Why is your life far from perfect? Are you concerned about money? Was there something more to that joke you made earlier? Why do you want to go/stay so badly? (Again, it’s important that if you choose to create this space and bring up something potentially deep, this is in no way to feed your curiosity… it is to support the healing of another.)
When someone else is experiencing anxiety, the best way you can support them is to do just that, support them. Do not make it about you. Do not create ideas in your head about why they feel this way or – even worse – why they shouldn’t be feeling the way they do. Be there for them and listen carefully, selflessly, openly.
3. Do and Follow Through
Being anxious is an unpredictable state. A person may start to harbour negative feelings towards people they previously adored; they may lose trust in everything and everyone; they may unconsciously surround themselves with other people to avoid how they feel. If you are supporting a person with anxiety, stick to your word. When you say you’re going to be there, be there. If you say you’re here to listen, listen. Whenever you commit to anything – whether it’s lending them a tool or watering their plants… everything seems like a big deal so – do not let them down. They need stability. They need people who are truly dedicated to supporting them – not flaky people who come in and out as they please.
Everyone working through anxiety needs a support system. The tough thing is that they don’t always know it or want to acknowledge it. It’s not uncommon for them to become very controlling in lieu of everything that feels out of their control. Every person is going to work through their anxiety at their own pace. It is their process, their experience and their success.
With these tools, we can support our friends subtly from a place of love. It is important for us to remember that unless they seek more from us, this is our only task.
Is there anything else that you would like to add to this short list? As a person with anxiety, how do you feel best supported? As a friend or loved one of someone with anxiety, what else do you do to support them?
With love, Always.