In my head, I was screaming out, “Please, not again, I just can’t listen to you talk about what might happen!” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help; after all, this is my daughter whom I love dearly and would do anything in the world for her. But my support seemed to make things worse. I didn’t know how to help. Have you ever uttered those words or entertained these thoughts while trying to help someone with an anxiety disorder?
In the past when it was evident my daughter was struggling with her anxiety I would rush in immediately to offer comfort. She would start down a road of, what if’s…. “What if I have some terrible disease?” “What if I am dying?” “What if I flunk out of school?” and on and on. These conversations were nothing new; we had the same conversations over and over again with the same results.
At the time, I had no knowledge of what it feels like to have the persistent worry, which goes along with an anxiety disorder. Nor had I developed any skills to communicate in a way, which would be good for both of us.
My desire to help was not enough!
I would start out calm, loving, and kind but after an hour things would escalate. I just don’t entertain uncertainty in this way and to agonize over what might be is just not in my DNA. I would say all of the things I thought would work, “Just don’t worry.” “That will never happen.” “Go for a walk.” “Think about something different.” Then I would rub her back for comfort, but not even that would work. I would begin to unravel.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why someone would dwell on what might be instead of what is.
Of course, emotions would rise. Then hysterical crying would begin, and the volume of my voice would increase. Now the calm mother with a desire to help turned into an exasperated mom who would stomp out of the room saying, “I’m just no good for you when you’re like this, and I’m leaving your room.”
Then from the other room, I would cry, as I heard her hysterically sobbing. I would think to myself, “I am a failure because I can’t even comfort my child.”
Together we repeated this song and dance for quite some time, years in fact. It always left us both exhausted. We seemed to find ourselves at a crossroad every time she needed her concerns embraced, and I needed them to stop, for me to feel okay.
Fast forward ten years and you will see quite a different mother and daughter interaction in the midst of her anxiety. It isn’t perfect, but we have both worked hard at finding ways to meet in the middle and embrace her disorder. Below are a few suggestions that might help you interact better with someone who is in the midst of anxiety and worries.
Eight Strategies For Loving Someone With An Anxiety Disorder
Set a time to talk: When possible, we set a time to talk. Waiting to talk gives me a chance to get in the right frame of mind.
Set a time limit: Set a time limit: As a semi non-worrier, I can handle worry talk for about 10 – 15 minutes without becoming exasperated. Naming and labeling thoughts can help reduce worry and anxiety. See last weeks post here.
Be present: Stay grounded, concentrating entirely on this moment.
Seek professional help: An anxiety disorder is real. It is challenging for the one with the disorder and those that support them.
Validate: Find the truth in what your loved one is saying and acknowledge it. Validation can magically bring down one’s anxiety.
Acceptance: Accept that your loved one has apprehensions instead of trying to convince them they “shouldn’t be worried.”
Education: Learn all you can discover about anxiety disorders. Understanding what is going on in someone else’s world can bring about a new perspective and compassion. Click here for a link to some great resources.
Self-care: Make sure you are taking care of “you.” Remember, who puts on the oxygen mask first in an airplane. Sometimes this may mean taking a step back to rest and letting others step in to help out.
You are important too!
We may never know what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder. But, we can educate ourselves to get a better understanding of what someone who lives with a disorder experiences.
Education along with developing our skill set and support from others will allow us to be helpful without becoming exasperated.
All of us can help in some way
The good news is even if our loved ones don’t change; a small change on our side can make a huge difference for everyone. I can guarantee you; my daughter and I don’t always do it perfectly
She still has an anxiety disorder, and I still get agitated from time to time. Using the strategies above can help.
Do you have any tips for helping a loved one with an anxiety disorder or persistent worry?