I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while. In fact, I’ve been meaning to write a bunch of blog posts for a while but life keeps getting in the way.
In case you’ve been living under a rock this past month, we’re facing a global pandemic, the consequences of which are almost unfathomable at this stage. So for people with any kind of anxiety, right now is horrendous. I realise we’re all worried but being worried isn’t the same as anxiety. Anxiety is like worry on speed.
We’re now encouraged to stay inside, work from home, and self-isolate which is a highly stressful situation. As someone who suffers with anxiety and depression, I figured that a way of giving myself a tiny bit of control is to share my experience in the hope that it’ll help other people. It is also really hard to support a loved one with anxiety and I’ve had lots of requests to write a post like this so here’s my version of an anxiety survival guide….
Empathy & Reassurance
Telling your loved one everything is going to be ok and not to worry, doesn’t really help. Logically, I know everything will be fine but anxiety doesn’t respond well to logic. Instead, giving your loved one the opportunity to talk about what is making them anxious and how it’s making them feel (if they’re able to) is a good start.
For me, I just want understanding. My anxious thoughts make me feel like I’m losing my grip on reality, like there is something seriously wrong with me. I’m not expecting anyone to “fix” me or my brain, I just want to feel like my thoughts and emotions are ok, even if they aren’t based in logic. I just want some reassurance that it’s normal to feel anxious and that I’m not losing it.
Telling someone they’re being silly or dismissing their fear is invalidating their experience. You might not agree with their thought process but it’s not about that, it’s simply about empathy and recognising how horrible it must feel for them.
If you’ve opened up the dialogue about what is making them feel anxious, they may want to talk about it and explain it in lots of different ways. They may want your opinion and ask for reassurance more than once. All that is ok. However, you might need to start to steer the conversation away from their anxiety if it is making the person feel worse. I long for a rest from my brain when I’m feeling anxious. I just want a break from the constant merry-go-round of damaging thoughts. A great way to do this is by distraction. Don’t be afraid to say something like:
“I know you’re feeling anxious and I appreciate you opening up. It may be time to take a break from it. Let’s focus on something else for 10 minutes.”
Chances are your loved one will welcome the break. Laughing, they say, is the best medicine. Be light and silly. Talk about a funny memory, a joke, play a silly youtube video. There are lots of ways to distract the person, even for a while. Smiling and laughing produce “happy hormones”. It won’t banish anxiety, but it’ll make you both feel happier, even for a few precious minutes.
People with anxiety feel exhausted most of the time. They aren’t lazy, they are worn out from the mental energy it takes to fight their negative thoughts. BUT their anxiety often won’t let them sleep. So you’ve got an already exhausted and anxious person, unable to sleep making them even more anxious and exhausted. It’s a vicious cycle.
Anything you can do to help them sleep is literally a lifeline. That could be something like running them a bath, giving them a massage, encouraging them to journal before bed to empty their brain or even encouraging them to step away from social media and the news.
It may be that they can only manage short naps. This might interrupt your plans but it’s really important they can have that precious sleep, so stay patient.
Look After Yourself
Supporting someone with any kind of mental health issue, especially when you care deeply about them, can be challenging. Self-care isn’t selfish and if you’re to continue to support your loved one effectively, you MUST ensure that you look after yourself. Eat well, sleep, get outside, talk about your own fears and anxieties. Basically you need to do everything that you’d be telling your loved one to do.
Don’t feel guilty about stepping away from your loved one and taking time for you. You need to recharge your batteries in order to continue your support. You’re doing your loved one a favour…trust me.