If you thought that the title of this post is really what it’s about, then I am super glad you’re here.
I often see people who don’t struggle with mental illness try to fix or ‘save’ their loved ones. I get it, you know, the desire to want to ‘put the fire out’ so that their loved one doesn’t have to struggle anymore. But it doesn’t work that way.
First and foremost, we don’t need fixing. We’re great the way that we are. Just because our struggles are different than some other people’s definitely doesn’t mean that we are defective in any way.
Before jumping in and trying to tell your loved one what they need to do consider this: try doing some leg work. One thing I’ve seen a lot working in Crisis Intervention is that people want to help their loved ones without the groundwork of understanding and grasping what they are dealing with. If someone you know has anxiety and you want to help them, try asking them or someone else to relate their experiences to you. Try talking to an expert. Watch videos on Youtube. There are so many ways to acquire information in this day and age, so take advantage of it.
It is also really hard for me to hear people with anxiety being told to just “face their fears”. Um, forcing a person with anxiety into an anxiety-inducing situation is a really horrible idea. It is okay to encourage the person to explore challenges, but forcing someone into a situation that has the potential to cause that much distress is dangerous. I can imagine how someone would lose a lot of trust in a friend or family member if they put them in such a precarious position.
Doing that also robs the person with anxiety of something really important. When it’s your idea to tackle or try something, you give it your all and you are successful, how do you feel? Empowered. You get that sense of “I did this, I am capable”. If someone forces you to tackle or try something and you aren’t near ready, and succeed only because someone pushed you forward the entire way, how do you feel? Embarrassed.
Even the most well-intended people struggle with this and I get it. I can relate to people with anxiety because I have anxiety. But if I didn’t, it would absolutely be a lot more difficult to put myself in the body and mind of someone with anxiety.
Suggesting seeing a doctor as one potential idea for resources…. supportive
Driving someone to the doctor and demanding they be medicated…not supportive
Listening to their story actively and openly, and relating through active listening… supportive
Listening to their story and relating it back to something that happened to you… not supportive
Letting the anxious person know you are there for them… supportive
Telling the anxious person their anxiety is ‘not that bad’… not supportive
If you have someone in your life struggling with anxiety let me tell you what they probably need: unwavering support. Be encouraging. Be a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen. Cheer when they triumph.
But at the end of the day it is truly only one person’s journey, and that’s the person going through it. All you can do is be there for them.