Having an anxiety disorder is difficult but so is being the partner, coworker, or friend of someone with an anxiety disorder – at least at first. By putting in the time to understand anxiety and the person who has it, you can make spending time with them easier and more beneficial for both of you.
Understand their Condition
One of the best ways to get better at living with someone who has an anxiety disorder is to understand their condition. Some people with anxiety disorders may tell you what their condition is called without being asked, especially if they’ve recently had a panic attack or other obvious symptoms around you. If you know that someone has an anxiety disorder, it’s also okay to ask them if they can tell you a little bit more about their condition. Be sure to explain that you want to know more so that you can be a better and more supportive friend, partner, or coworker and not because you want to try to cure them. If someone hasn’t told you that they have an anxiety disorder, don’t assume that they do, even if you’ve seen them show symptoms, like a panic attack. People without anxiety disorders can still have feelings of anxiety.
In some cases, the other person may tell you that they have anxiety but may not know more about their condition, or may not have been properly diagnosed. In this case, you can ask them to explain their symptoms and triggers. Be sure to do this in a comfortable environment and let them set the pace for the discussion. For some people with anxiety disorders, even discussing their triggers and symptoms can bring on an attack.
Know their Triggers
On a related note, understanding the triggers of a person with an anxiety disorder is also important. It can help you to avoid triggers when possible, and to be supportive of the person when avoiding a trigger isn’t possible. Also, if someone has specific triggers, knowing what they are can help you to be supportive in some cases and to back off and “treat them like a normal person” when there’s no sign of a trigger. This is especially the case for people with phobias – a panic disorder in which the person is afraid of one particular thing that they may rarely or never actually have to interact with.
“Triggers” are events that cause a stress response – which, in a person with an anxiety disorder, can lead to a panic attack.
For many people with anxiety disorders, their triggers may be the same as yours. Things like stressful meetings at work, paying bills, or bad traffic may be triggers. Other times, their triggers are more specific to their condition, like meeting new people or even a panic attack itself. In some people with panic disorders, they may not even have triggers and panic attacks may happen with no apparent cause at all.
Recognise their Symptoms
Recognising a person’s symptoms, like the early stages of a panic attack, can also be helpful. It can allow you to see if they need help with anything or if there is anything that you can do before a full-on panic attack starts.
While triggers differ from person to person and condition to condition, the symptoms of a panic attack are more or less the same for everybody. The pulse and breath quicken. The person may start to seem nauseous.
See if there Is Anything You Can Do.
It can also help to ask the person if there is anything that you can do for them when they are having symptoms. Chances are, they won’t want you to do anything but they may want you to help them to identify an exit, or to excuse their absences for them if they need to remove themselves from a situation. However, many people with anxiety disorders are familiar enough with their condition and symptoms that they are able to recognize a panic attack coming on with enough time to handle everything themselves.
Talking to a person about their anxiety disorder can be awkward, and they may not want to do it, at least at first. It’s important to let them set the pace for the conversation.
If someone doesn’t tell you about their anxiety disorder, it’s not okay for you to assume that they have one, or to try to diagnose that person yourself. If you spend a lot of time with the person, a friend, family member, or employer might be willing to tell you about the person’s condition but usually only if they think that that person needs you to know
At Citizen Counselling and Coaching a number of our counsellors and coaches can provide support around anxiety. This can include identifying the obstacles to being less anxious, creating practical plans and advice through sharing techniques and models that have worked for others.
Our ‘My Anxiety Coach’ online programme and Coaching was designed for time poor busy people looking to increase their confidence and make a positive change in their lives.
Our Overcoming Anxiety page can explain more.