In honor of World Mental Health Day, I wanted to write to all of you who love someone who struggles with anxiety. I can’t speak for everyone who is anxious, but these are common themes that I have found helpful in my life and those around me.
- Celebrate the small things. Victories are victories are victories, no matter how small. Sometimes getting out of bed, taking a shower, or making a phone call can be the most impossible task. Taking these steps requires strength and courage to persevere. That strength needs to be recognized and celebrated!
- Help them find resources and their support system. No one can be all things to all people. Even if you are the world’s best human, you cannot be the only person supporting someone through their anxiety. We need community. We need doctors, therapists, mentors, etc. to help provide the resources we need to keep going. You are a better friend to us if you take care of yourself too.
- Steer away from well-intended but dismissive remarks. Although the following statements sound positive and encouraging, they often come off as belittling the reality and difficulty of living with anxiety. These can include: “It’ll be okay.” “You’ve got this.” “Everything will be fine.” It’s much more comforting to hear: “I’m so sorry.” “This really sucks.” I’m here in this with you.”
- Please give us grace on the bad days. Anxiety gets in the way of everything. Social events can be triggering. Every day errands can become overwhelming. Please don’t judge us if we have to back out of things sometimes. Some days, it is just too hard. It’s okay to challenge the anxiety and encourage us to try. Just please be understanding in the moments that we can’t.
- Remind them they are worthy. Anxiety is often accompanied by feelings of burden. I would bet 10/10 times anxiety is all wrapped up in self-esteem. Unfortunately, anxiety is still very shameful. Please remind us we are messy complex humans who are worthy of love and belonging just like everyone else.
- Let them be sad. Anxiety can be really debilitating. Treatment is hard. Some days can feel hopeless. Please let us grieve the effects of the anxiety. Please sit with us in the anxiety. I know it is tempting to try to pull us out of the dark. But, grieving is part of the process. It’s so much better when you don’t have to do it alone.
- Remind them they are more than their mental illness. Anxiety is so consuming. Sometimes, I feel like it’s taken over my whole identity. I need to be reminded that I’m also funny and smart. I need to remember that I have an anxiety disorder, but I am not my anxiety disorder.
- Don’t put a time limit on their healing. I cannot tell you how often it feels like the world is tapping its foot, waiting for me to get my life together. Treatment varies for every individual. Often, the road to healing is long. There are so many expectations already to be happy and shiny and have it all together. Be someone who provides space and time for the struggle.
- Most of all, if you are anxious, hear me say: You may be a little fragile, but you’re also a freaking warrior. To those who love us, whatever your version of this- let your loved ones know! Yes, we are broken. (Also, who isn’t?) It doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of doing amazing things. We can still be intelligent, helpful, and useful while having anxiety. We still have something to offer.
I’m sure there are so many more things I could add. I would love to hear from others what you feel you need in the midst of your struggle!