If you know someone with anxiety, the last thing that person needs is to hear you say, “Why aren’t you getting professional help?” Compassion and empathy are powerful weapons to wield against anxiety, but knowing how and when to use them is critical.

What Is Anxiety?

The U.S. National Library of Medicine says that anxiety “is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. It might cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. It can be a normal reaction to stress. For example, you might feel anxious when faced with a difficult problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision.” Anxiety is treatable but may lead to a serious anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Disorders

There are many kinds of anxiety disorders, including these:

  • Panic Disorder. People with panic disorder have frequent unforeseen panic attacks. They are sudden episodes of penetrating fear that happen quickly and peak within minutes. They can be unexpected or can be manifested by a trigger, like something you fear or a perilous situation.
  • Phobia-specific disorders (fear of flying, heights, animals, or insects, to name a few). A phobia is an extreme fear of — or aversion to — specific situations or objects. In most cases, the fear is greater than the real danger triggered by the object or situation.
  • Social anxiety disorder. “People with social anxiety disorder have a general intense fear of, or anxiety toward, social or performance situations. They worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others, leading them to feel embarrassed. This worry often causes people with social anxiety to avoid social situations.”

Know The Symptoms

General anxiety symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • Feeling nervous, impatient, or tense
  • Having a feeling of imminent danger, doom, or panic 
  • Having a fast heart rate
  • You breathe quickly
  • Sweating
  • Trembling

Many symptoms can be treated with psychotherapy or newer treatment options.

  • Tiredness or feeling weak
  • Difficulty focusing or thinking about anything besides what you’re currently worried about
  • Problems sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Having problems controlling worry 
  • Having the desire to avoid something which triggers anxiety

What To Say To Someone With Anxiety?

The United States National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 19 percent of adults suffer from anxiety, meaning there’s a good chance you know someone battling its symptoms – they could be a family member, co-worker, or maybe your neighbor. As a society, we seem to tiptoe around the topic of mental health with people we’re close to, but there are things you can say to someone with anxiety if you want to help them:

  • “I’m here when you need help.” Supporting a friend or loved one doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be an expert in knowing about their condition, but this kind of statement offers reassurance that you’ll be there when the chips are down and you’re trying to understand their anxiety experience.
  • “How can I help you?” Your loved one who’s suffering from anxiety may not have the answer to that question, but it’s a conversation starter. It’s a way to let them know you’re serious about providing help.
  • “Let’s go somewhere quiet or maybe for a walk.” People who suffer from anxiety or a more serious mental illness are often self-conscious when talking about what’s happening, so an offer to find a quiet place or go on a walk will help them focus on the present.
  • “Can you tell me when things started to go wrong?” Ken Yeager, director of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Stress Trauma and Resilience Program, says this is another good starting point.

Finally, offer gentle words of encouragement and empathy to help them.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis involves:

  • A physical exam, which may include a blood test, image tests, and other diagnostic procedures to uncover a medical reason for your anxiety symptoms.
  • A psychiatric assessment where you talk about your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You may be asked about your personal and family history of mental illness as the cause for your anxiety and whether you’re open to your doctor talking with family and friends about your condition.
  • Comparing your symptoms to criteria in the DSM-5.

Once you’ve been discussed, you and your doctor can talk about treatment options, which may include psychotherapy, antidepressants, or ketamine infusion.

Final Thoughts

Anxiety isn’t something that should be taken lightly. More serious than sadness, its symptoms can lead to serious anxiety disorders or another mental or physical illness with serious consequences. If you know someone with anxiety, knowing what to say can be a key to them understanding their problem and getting help.

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