- “Remember your breathing”
- “Remember <insert whatever technique that has helped them before>”
- “Would you like help me to help you to somewhere quieter/safer/calmer?”
- “I’m here if you need me.” (At this point, you should leave them alone unless they ask)
- “You’re panicking, it won’t last. You’ve got past this before, you’ll get past it again”
But the key to all of this: If they ask you to leave them alone – leave them alone! They are experienced in handling their anxiety; let them get through it however they see fit.
7. They appreciate you sticking by them
Anxiety is rough on everyone involved, which means you too. They understand that, they understand their irrationality; they understand you’ve not done some things you would’ve liked to because they couldn’t. They’re not oblivious to what it takes to support them.
If there’s one thing in common that you’ll find across the board for everyone with anxiety, it’s that they over think – they over think a lot. Part of this over thinking always comes back to the people that have supported them, always. Your support doesn’t go unmissed – no matter how subtle you may think it’s been.
8. They can find it hard to let it go
Part of anxiety is the constant over thinking, but to really understand this we need to understand where the over thinking stems from. When anyone is faced with a traumatic incident in their life, which most people with anxiety have had more than their fair share of, the memory (if not properly dealt with) can end up stored in part of the limbic system of the brain that the mind uses to determine if we are at ‘risk.’ You can find out more about that here.
The memory is stored in a completely different manner and region of the brain in comparison to an everyday memory that gets filed away. This causes the brain to react differently to the memory. The brain is actively seeking to make links between the traumatic memory and the present situation it’s in (partly the cause of the hyper-tense state.)
When the brain is caught in this cycle, letting go of things can be very difficult. When the brain is trained to remain in this cycle through prolonged anxiety, letting go of pretty much anything can be a tough task. People with anxiety cannot always just ‘let it go,’ their brain won’t let them, so please don’t give them a hard time about it
9. They can find change difficult (even if it’s expected)
Everyone has a comfort zone, anxiety or not. Pushing that comfort zone can be difficult for even the most well-adjusted person, so for people with anxiety it can be even more challenging. This is not to be confused with the sentiment that those with anxiety dislike change or pushing their comfort zones, because they will likely thrive once they’re actually in the process of doing so. They can just find it a lot more difficult to bring themselves to do so.
The one relief people with anxiety tend to get from their anxiety is when they’re allowed to be in their place of comfort with nothing major changing around them. When they’re faced with a big change and uprooting, it can take them a lot longer to settle back down and establish that zone again. Just remember to have a little more patience and understanding for those with anxiety. They’re trying, they really are
10. They aren’t (always) intentionally ignoring you
Part of managing anxiety is controlling the inner monologue that comes with it. Sometimes this can be a very attention-consuming act. The strangest things can set off obscure thought patterns for those with anxiety. If they suddenly drift out of the conversation, there’s a good chance they’re over thinking something that’s just been said or they’re trying to calm their thoughts down. Both take immense concentration.
They’re not ignoring you; or not intentionally at least. They’re just trying not to have a mental breakdown right there in front of you. You don’t need to ask “are you okay?” and you especially don’t need to quiz them on what you just said. If it’s important, try gently bringing it back up when they seem more attentive.Their mind can be a war zone at times. They will drop out of conversations unexpectedly and they will feel bad for doing so if they realise it. Reassure them that you understand and ensure they’ve fully digested any important news you may have discussed, especially if it involves them handling some responsibility (maybe make a note of it too!)
11. They aren’t always present
As mentioned in the above point, they’re not always present in a conversation, but it’s not just conversation that can trigger this reaction. Everyday events can cause everyone to get lost in contemplation at some point or another, but for those with anxiety almost everything can serve as a contemplative trigger. They will recede into the depths of their mind quite regularly and you’ll likely notice the vacancy on their face. Contrary to what romantic movies suggest, it’s not always cute to come up and spook them while they’re lost in thought (though sometimes it definitely can be!)
Gently nudge them back to reality regularly. Remind them where they are, what they’re doing (not literally, they’re anxious – they don’t have short term memory loss), and to appreciate it. They’ll greatly appreciate you doing so. You can learn more about mindfulness and how it relates to anxiety here.