How To Help Someone With Anxiety: Advice On Signs, Treatment And Support

How To Help A Loved One With Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. In fact, it's part of human nature and our built-in 'fight or flight' mentality.

But there's a stark difference between feeling anxious because of an exam or a job interview and having a sustained feeling of anxiety that follows you around relentlessly and impacts day-to-day life.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in the UK, affecting 4.7% of the UK population. But according to the Mental Health Foundation, it is under-diagnosed, under-reported and under-treated.

Karen Martin-Rodriguez, therapy services manager at The Priory, says that there has been an increase in anxiety sufferers seeking help over the past five years. But despite this increase there is still a long way to go.

"Mental health issues are being spoken about more openly, which could account for the increase of people coming forward," she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "But also, the rise could indicate that more people are suffering from anxiety - the world certainly is becoming a more complicated and stressful place to live in."

When it comes to diagnosing anxiety, there is plenty of information for sufferers to self-diagnose. But what happens if you suspect a loved one might have anxiety? And how do you broach the subject and begin to help them through it?

Sheri Jacobson, consultant therapist at Harley Medical Centre, says: "We tend to notice changes in people we care about, so often the signs are obvious. Try to be attuned to changes that extend for a long period of time, or that are more intense than usual."

Dr Jacobson highlighted the following signs of anxiety:

  • Be aware of differences in concentration and attention - for example, they might be in a conversation but lately don’t seem to be taking anything in.
  • Notice changes in appetite - they could be eating a lot more or less than usual.
  • Anxiety can bring on tiredness, so you can look out for changes in appearance, more yawning than usual and unwillingness to do any physical exertion.
  • Anxiety can have an impact on our willingness to interact, so do look out for signs such as social withdrawal, restlessness or irritability.
  • Some people will try to cover up anxiety and stress by turning to substances or addictive activities such as gaming. Some of the symptoms of anxiety tend to mirror those of depression.
  • But identifying that someone close to you may anxiety just the tip of the iceberg, broaching the subject can be much more daunting.

    But Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, says that the most important first step is just to giving your friend or loved one an opportunity to say how they’re really feeling.

    "You don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health, often it’s the little things that can really make a difference," he tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "Simply asking someone for a cup of tea, giving them a call or text to let them know you’re there, can help them feel like they’re not alone."

    He adds: "Talking about your experiences is the first step to recovery and so it’s vital that everyone feels they have someone they can go to and can trust, to open up about everything they’re going through."

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    Dr Jacobson says that anxiety sufferers may be in denial about their condition and so it's worth doing your research. Being fully equipped with information about symptoms and treatment will make talking to them easier and you will feel more comfortable talking about difficult issues.

    "This information shouldn’t be forced upon them - it’s likely they could withdraw further," she warns. "Sometimes our concern can come out the wrong way, so always try to be sensitive or compassionate rather than abrupt or blameful."

    Once you have made the first steps, there are different avenues and services available to seek help.

    Mr Buckley says: "If you feel that you or someone you know may have anxiety it is important to speak to someone, such as your GP or friend or family member, as soon as possible so you are not alone in dealing with it and can get the right help and support. Alternatively, you can call the Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393 or see Mind’s booklet on Understanding Anxiety and panic attacks for further information.

    But Dr Jacobson warns against putting pressure on your loved one to ‘fix' their anxiety issues.

    "Anxiety, as most psychological concerns, can be ‘managed’ more than it can be ‘cured’," she says. "Giving someone the hope that they can be completely rid of anxiety is not only unrealistic, but might set them up for disappointment and self-blame."