Advice for Family and Friends of people suffering from anxiety
This article aims to help partners or friends understand more of what the person they love is going through and how much their help and support is needed when suffering from anxiety.
Let me start by saying I was one of those people that thought conditions like anxiety did not exist. I would see sufferers as work dodgers and hypochondriacs. I was as ignorant as they come on anything outside of what I understood. How quickly my attitude changed!
If we don’t understand anxiety, then it does not exist.
If we see someone with a cold or a broken leg, then they will get our sympathy as we have been most likely been through it ourselves and understand it’s not pleasant. But on the other hand, if it is something we have not gone through, then we can’t relate to it, so we may ridicule it or not believe it exists.
This ignorance of the condition is the very reason so many anxiety sufferers suffer in silence. The main reason they feel they have to keep it a secret is the fear that people won’t understand and so ridicule or judge them, thinking they should just pull themselves together and get over it.
Even those closest to them, like a partner or family member, may not know the full extent of their suffering. As the person suffering doesn’t want to burden them and in some cases fears losing them, so they keep a lot inside.
This lack of understanding is something that needs to change. The sufferer wants nothing more than to be able to chat freely about how they are feeling and to gain help and support from those closest to them.
Supporting your partner with anxiety
I was fortunate that my mother and partner were very supportive. I said to both: “You may not understand what I am going through, but just believe me”. They never put pressure on me to be better or told me to pull myself together; they were just there when I needed to offload and listened without judgement when I explained how I felt.
A lady once told me that her husband was always on her case, telling her to pull herself together and to stop all this nonsense. One day she just snapped and said to him: “Do you really think for one minute that I want to feel this way; to not enjoy life like I once could and to not be able to smile like I once did?’.
As you can see, a partner’s lack of understanding can place far more pressure on the person to recover. It only increases their anxiety and gets in the way of progress. Your body and mind need time and space to recover, and this starts with an understanding partner. One who won’t judge or put pressure on you to get better.
Why supporting your loved one with anxiety is so important
I receive emails from partners and family members saying they have read my book to try and understand what their loved one is going through and, since reading they have a far better understanding and a lot more sympathy for them.
A lot of the initial pressure can come through frustration that the person they love has changed and is not the person they once knew. Trust me, that person is still there; it’s just that at the moment they are buried underneath symptoms.
The person suffering may also take it out on the ones closest to them. I sometimes took out how I felt on the people closest to me. I would snap or be unreasonable. This anger was purely my frustration about how I felt and how much I wanted to be the person I was before.
My partner used to say “Paul, I know this is not the real you, so I don’t take it to heart when you snap at me”. Having this understanding and support was vital to my recovery. It took so much guilt away from how I was reacting and I knew she would stick by me no matter what.
Trust me; no one wants to get better more than the person who suffers from anxiety. So, your help and support are needed now more than ever. Put no pressure on that person to be better, be there when they need an ear and try to be more patient and understanding; maybe even try to learn more about the subject.
I had this support and understanding, and it was a big factor in me finally pulling through.