Thank you all for your gracious and awesome responses to this blog series! It’s been such a huge encouragement to me.
Here’s part three, also known as what to say to encourage and support someone with anxiety.
How can I help?
Most of the time, dealing with anxiety and combating a panic attack is a personal thing. Everyone is different, so ask the people in your life (individually) what you can do to help them with their anxiety. The best time to ask this is when they are not in the middle of a panic attack, FYI. They may need you to do nothing, or they may give you ways you can support them (like being someone they can text at 2:00am if needed, someone to run errands if they’re in a really bad place, etc).
Is it OK if I hug/touch/comfort you?
If you know me, you know I am a hugger. I love to give and receive hugs and physical touch is definitely a love language. Except when I’m panicking. If I’m in the middle of a really stressful attack, I don’t want to be touched. For me, a hug right at that moment feels suffocating. So, ask before you hug/comfort.
What’s the worst that you think will happen?
Yes, this was on yesterday’s list, as well. It’s all about tone with this question. Sometimes Tim asks me what’s the worst that can happen and it helps me realize that I’m freaking out over something that is highly unlikely, if not completely unlikely. Case in point: I used to have panic attacks every time Tim left for an overnight trip. I was convinced that something horrible would happen to our dog, who he adores. In my anxiety/panic/illogical state I then convinced myself that if something happened to Madi, Tim would leave me. (Yes, writing it out makes me realize how silly it was). Tim asking why I was panicking and what the worst thing was that could happen led us to have a conversation about my fears and help me work through them.
I love you. I accept you. Just as you are.
One of the underlying fears on most anxiety issues (at least in my circle) is that our disease makes us unlovable and unaccepted. When we panic about something small, we are also panicking that our anxiety will make the people we have in our lives turn away from us. Remind us, especially when things are rough, that you love us and you accept all of us, not just the parts of us you see when we have our anxiety under control.
I believe in you.
I know the things I fear and worry about seem silly to most people. What I need from you is to believe that I believe that they are real. You don’t have to believe they’re true, but I need you to believe that, in my head, this is what I think is going to happen. We can talk through it and work through what is imagined fear and what is legitimate, but validate my feelings. Believe in me when I say I want to get better. Believe in me when I say I don’t know how to get better.
Above all, remember that people with anxiety need to be loved and trusted and supported. We need to know that you aren’t judging us because of our illness. We need to know that we can trust you with the anxious parts of our hearts and the non-anxious parts of our hearts. We need to know that you won’t run away when we panic and that you’ll help us pick up the pieces when an attack is over.
Thanks for reading this series! Tomorrow is a bonus post – anxiety and faith. Because it’s something I have to get off my chest!