Having key people in your life at the ready has been critical for my success living with anxiety and just may help you too.
When you have an anxiety disorder it can seem like you’re the only one that does. I am here to tell you that is not the case…I have an anxiety disorder as do at least 40 million others Americans.
I struggled for years to avoid my anxiety and even hide it. Friends and loved ones would ask how I was doing and I would typically keep it inside and not share how I was really feeling.
I knew I needed a new approach with accepting anxiety and for it to be successful, I needed people in my corner that I could be vulnerable with and share how I was feeling. Mine consist of three people I refer to as my “supports” and they have been instrumental in my success living with anxiety.
Identify a small group of people you are close, say 2-3 people. They don’t have to have anxiety themselves which can actually be in your favor since it gives you an opportunity to educate them about what you’re experiencing. Educate them about anxiety so they can understand and be able to help you.
Did you know? Anxiety is actually healthy. It keeps us safe so we don’t do something physically harmful. Higher levels of anxiety trigger a “fight-of-flight” response which is a survival mechanism that readies our bodies to react to a potentially harmful situation. This trigger has kept us alive since we lived in caves.
Anxiety becomes a disorder when we experience excessive anxiety or worry, most days, for at least 6 months. Unfortunately anxiety shows-up differently for many which is one point to make very clear: Anxiety does not always look a certain way. Do not assume someone does or does not have an anxiety disorder based on their appearance or disposition.
Even though we all experience stress on some level anxiety disorders are very different, like a faucet that never shuts-off. So educate your friends and supports about that what high anxiety or panic attacks feel like – all the sensations, the sweaty palms, racing heart, intrusive thoughts, stomach aches.
Tip: Before I discharged from program I prepared a simple, one-page document that I shared with my key supports. The document gave an overview of anxiety, what it feels like to me and what my strategies were as my anxiety escalated up the 1-10 ladder. Give it a try!
Walk with Me
You need your those key people – your supports – not to carry the load for you but to help you carry it. An analogy that I love relates to how elephants care for their sick in the herd. They don’t stop what they’re doing, they don’t carry them. They surround the sick elephant and help it walk. Same goes for those of us with anxiety…carrying the load for us does not help us grow stronger and our key supports should not do that for us either. They should help us learn to walk – to live with it.
How Can I Help?
If you’re fortunate enough to have friends and supports that ask you how they can help, beware giving the default answer of “I’m fine.” It can be hard to do but tell them what you’re feeling and where you are on a scale of 1-10, 10 being a panic attack.
Here’s where it can get hard: To get help you have to open up to the offers of help. To answer the “how are you” with your real feelings and not just an “I’m fine.” This has been particularly difficult for me but I have made progress and it’s paid huge dividends in my recovery. Open up to the help and help others help you.
Help them understand the feelings and tell them what you’re doing to knock it down a notch. Having your tools to accept the anxiety have been a godsend for me which I practice even when anxiety is not high. Have an arsenal of tools ready like breathing techniques, meditation and more at the ready. Practice these tools even when you’re feeling fine so you can fall back on them without having to think about them in the heat of the moment.
Related: 5 ways to Help a Friend with Anxiety