18 June 2015

What to do if someone you know has an anxiety disorder

Supporting someone with an anxiety disorder can be tricky - how do you know if you're being a help or a hindrance? Try to remember these 11 tips when you're with them...


If someone you know suffers from an anxiety disorder, you may be unsure of whether or not you're saying or doing the wrong things. If this applies to you, try following these are simple guidelines to ensure you support your friend or family member in the best way possible:

1.    Don’t make assumptions about what the affected person needs; ask them.

2.    Be predictable; don’t surprise them.

3.    Let the person with disorder set the pace for recovery.

4.    Find something positive in every experience. If the affected person is only able to go partway to a particular goal, such as a movie theatre or party, consider that an achievement rather than a failure.

5.    Don’t enable avoidance: negotiate with the person with panic disorder to take one step forward when he or she wants to avoid something.

6.    Don’t sacrifice your own life and build resentments.

7.    Don’t panic when the person with the disorder panics.

8.    Remember that it’s all right to be anxious yourself; it’s natural for you to be concerned and even worried about the person with panic disorder.

9.    Be patient and accepting, but don’t settle for the affected person being permanently disabled.

10.  Say: “You can do it no matter how you feel. I am proud of you. Tell me what you need now. Breathe slow and low. Stay in the present. It’s not the place that’s bothering you, it’s the thought. I know that what you are feeling is painful, but it’s not dangerous. You are courageous.”

11.  Don’t say: “Relax. Calm down. Don’t be anxious. Let’s see if you can do this (i.e., setting up a test for the affected person). You can fight this. What should we do next? Don’t be ridiculous. You have to stay. Don’t be a coward.”

Read more:

Control your breathing to manage anxiety

The link between anxiety and depression

Getting excited helps with performance anxiety

Image: Women taking her friend in her arms and sitting on the sofa from Shutterstock


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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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