It can be difficult to watch a loved one struggle with anxiety and depression. Often, we feel helpless as if there is nothing that we can do. We may not even understand what is happening but know that there is something off with our friend or family member. I want to provide you with practical ways that you can help someone who is struggling with anxiety and depression. These 5 strategies are not a cure all, but they can help you feel less helpless with your loved one and in turn can also help the person suffering from anxiety and depression.
1. Don’t ignore it
Even though many things have changed with mental health in the last decade there can still be stigma around mental illness. It might be hard to accept and even believe that our loved one has anxiety and/or depression. One of the most helpful things that someone can do for their loved one is to validate their pain. Mental illness is often invisible. We can’t see the symptoms. We often think they aren’t as bad as a person may be saying. By validating their situation, it helps the person feel understood and heard. They begin to feel emotionally safe. This can cause anxiety and depression to decrease almost instantly. The person suffering no longer feels like they need to fight to be heard. Once this step is taken now something can be done about your loved one’s suffering.
2. Be active with them
Often with anxiety and depression people like to stay home. People often begin to isolate or have less motivation to leave the home. As a person caring for someone suffering with anxiety and depression it is important to help your family member or friend get out of the house and be active. People often remain in their homes stuck in anxiety and depression. By getting out of the house this breaks they cycle of being stuck. The best thing to do when getting someone out of the house is to exercise. Going for a walk will increase serotonin levels and will start to decrease anxiety and depression. It will have the by product of making everyone feel happier in that situation!
3. Allow for a safe place to express their feelings: Engage with their feelings.
When people are struggling with anxiety and depression, they often struggle with feeling safe to voice their thoughts and feelings. Just as discussed in step 1, it is important that the person suffering have an emotionally safe environment where they can express their emotions. As discussed in my previous blog Post “Emotions as Signals”, the more someone supresses their emotions the more they are going to feel anxiety and depression. It is important that your loved one know that it is okay to talk about how they feel. People struggling often have the belief that no one cares about how they feel or that they are going to be rejected and dismissed if they voice how they are feeling. Allowing a safe place for their expression of emotion reframes their belief about their emotion. They slowly begin to realize that there are people who care about how they feel. That it is safe to express their emotion. This can have the effect of instantly decreasing anxious and depressive symptoms.
4. Laugh with them
We have heard it said many times. Laughter is the best medicine. We know this scientifically. Research states that laughter reduces stress hormones, relieves tension, releases endorphins, and boosts the immune system: exactly what someone with anxiety and depression need. We don’t want to laugh away their pain. However, it is helpful to find something outside of the situation to laugh about. Maybe that is a movie, recalling a funny memory, or telling them something funny that happened to you. This is natural medication that can help the body and mind.
5. Help them find a counsellor that is a good fit
Family members and friends can be such a great support to people suffering with mental health difficulties. It is also important to remember that this person who is suffering needs a professional to help them. They need a Psychologist who can help them understand their anxiety and depression better. They need someone who can provide tools to them to decrease the symptoms. There remains stigma about going to counselling. This often stops people from initiating counselling. One of the best ways to help someone suffering is to sit down with them and help them find a counsellor that would be a good fit for them. This will help remove any stigma that may be stopping them from finding help and helps them begin their journey to getting better.
These 5 strategies will slowly help you help your loved one. It will also bring a sense of connection between the two of you which often gets lost in the midst of anxiety and depression. There are even times that the person caring for their loved seeks therapy so that they can have support during this time as well. Know that you are not alone in this and with time, and help, things do get better.