Timely articles on mental health issues and spirituality
In our world today it seems like the concept of having anxiety has reached epic proportions. There are varying degrees of anxiety with some people experiencing anxiety occasionally in response to a stressful situation while others live with crippling anxiety that keeps them from their daily lives - and there is a whole spectrum in between. While we don’t all qualify for a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, we have all experienced anxiety to some degree in our existence as humans. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders have become the most common mental health disorder in America, affecting over 40 million Americans. With numbers like that it is very likely that we all know or even love someone who is struggling with anxiety if we are not struggling with it ourselves.
If you do not qualify for a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder or do not significantly struggle with anxiety it can be hard to understand what those who do are going through. You may be going through your day without a care in the world and suddenly receive a phone call from a loved one in complete panic mode. Sometimes the things that send people into a panic can be bewildering to someone who is not experiencing it. Your first impulse may be to say, “Calm down” or “It is not that bad” or “Just relax” or even “What is the matter with you? What are you so worried about?” While all these things may be true and logical, they are not helpful for the person who is experiencing them.
One thing to remember about anxiety is that it is not rational, and most of the time the person knows that what they are feeling is not rational but that does not change the fact that they are still feeling it. Trying to force someone who is not feeling rational to be rational doesn’t work. Instead try being supportive by saying things like, “I’m here for you”, “This is going to pass”, or simply allowing them to be without saying anything. When someone is worrying about something irrational you can remind them to breathe or ask them if they would like to go and do something with you to take their mind off of it. One of the best things that you can do is to ask in a more rational moment (not in the middle of peak anxiety) how you can be most helpful to them when they are in a peak moment of anxiety. Simply being there and offering a calm presence can help someone through very dark moments.
One thing to remember about loved ones with anxiety is that they really do care deeply or else they would not be anxious. You must care about something to be nervous about it or about losing it. Glennon Doyle says that, “anxiety is just love holding its breath”, meaning that someone with anxiety loves so deeply and intensely that the thought of losing that (which is a very real possibility at any moment) sends them into a panic. Anxiety is not always something to be working against. We can embrace our loved ones who struggle with it knowing that they care deeply and intensely even at their own expense.
Laura Dempsey is a licensed social worker and therapist with nearly 20 years of experience counseling children and families.