Lately, I have seen several articles about what to do for a loved one who is struggling with anxiety and other mental health disorders. Obviously, the emergence of these articles is a great thing, as it is important for persons who are dealing with chronic mental health issues to have support from those that love them.  But if you are the anxious person, what can you do to manage your illness and your relationship with those you care about? Read on for 3 key methods you can use to help your family support you, and also how you can ease the burden on them.


Educate and Explain

Often, persons who have not experienced chronic anxiety have difficulty understanding what it’s like. It’s important for you to share what chronic anxiety is and how it works, and also your personal experience in dealing with it.  For instance, it’s helpful for loved ones to understand that, in the moment, your worries feel real to you, even if they are irrational or centered around issues that seemingly don’t matter. Let your family members know that they can assist you by not indulging your worried brain, which means avoiding trying to explain or reason with your anxious thoughts. They should also avoid telling you to ‘let it go’, or ‘relax’. While well-meaning, these types of statements often increase the anxious response, as opposed to diminishing it. The best strategy is to acknowledge an anxious thought, but avoid engaging it.  Let your loved ones know the types of statements that you need to hear from them, such as, ‘I’m sorry you’re struggling with this right now.’ Or, ‘I know this must be tough.’ This way, you feel heard, but you (and your family member) don’t tumble down the rabbit hole of worry.


It’s also important to remember that anxious thoughts try to fool you into thinking that if you just get the right answer or explanation—either from yourself or a loved one—the thought will go away.  But with chronic anxiety, your worry is irrational or exaggerated, and trying to reason with it often does not work.  It’s easy to get frustrated with friends and family members because you want them to help make the anxiety end, but remind yourself that this is not their role.  All they can do is offer support as you go through this process.


A final note on this: educating your family and friends about your worries does not give you license to endlessly talk about it or expect others to simply ‘deal with it.’ While it’s nearly inevitable that your loved ones will be exposed to some of the difficulties associated with your anxious symptoms (as they would with any other health matter), ultimately, managing your chronic anxiety is your responsibility.  If you find yourself overwhelmed by anxious symptoms and/or constantly sharing your worries with others, check out the section below on getting help.


Acknowledge the Impact of Your Symptoms

Dealing with anxiety is tough.  And so is living with someone who struggles with anxiety. Allow your family members and friends the space to talk about how your anxious symptoms affect them. The presence of anxiety can make seemingly mundane tasks more difficult, and also disrupt or negatively affect time that would otherwise be spent enjoying each other’s company.  While loved ones should not blame you, they do need to be able to share how living with your symptoms impacts their own feelings and day to day lives. You can support them by listening and being present for them, much in the way that they are for you.  Your symptoms are not your fault, but you choose you handle them and, to some degree, how they impact others.



Get Help

While having family and friends support you is an important part of effectively managing anxiety, sometimes it can be useful to work with a mental health professional. This can help you make progress in how you manage your symptoms, and also lessen the impact on those who care about you. For example, while a spouse may patiently listen to all of your anxious thoughts and feelings, leaning heavily on your partner this way may alter your relationship in ways you do not like.  Much like the couple that only has conversations about their kids, you don’t want to be the couple that primarily has conversations about worry. Constant discussions about anxiety does not a love affair make.


Further, if your anxious symptoms are so overwhelming that they regularly spill into your life with family and friends, you may benefit from talking about new techniques and strategies to better manage your anxiety. It may be time to re-assess how you deal with your worry.
Living with chronic anxiety is down-right hard, and you benefit from having loved ones to help you manage it.  But be mindful of how your experiences impact those around you, and be honest with them (and yourself) about how they can best support you.