Connecting with people who have anxiety can be challenging, unnerving, and might seem impossible. As a person with anxiety myself, I know what those walls are like and how difficult it is to climb them. Anxiety can occur spontaneously, regularly, or even as a diagnosed mental illness requiring prescription medication.
Because of the side effects and symptoms of such a condition, it can be daunting for a person to consider connecting with a person who has anxiety. Not knowing what the person’s triggers are or how they might react can drive people away rather than bring them closer.
Luckily for you, I’m sharing with you a few things to consider when connecting with people with anxiety. I’ll point out tangible tips, what various symptoms might indicate, and how to best support them so you can have a meaningful relationship.
A quick look into what anxiety is
Anxiety is a common human experience characterized by feelings of worry, fear, and unease. It is a natural response to stress or perceived threats and can vary in intensity and duration. Anxiety can manifest as physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms, such as increased heart rate, restlessness, racing thoughts, excessive worrying, and difficulty concentrating.
While some level of anxiety is typically normal and can be beneficial in some situations, such as heightening alertness, excessive or chronic anxiety can significantly impact daily functioning and overall well-being. Anxiety disorders are a cluster of mental health conditions involving excessive and persistent anxiety, often interfering with daily life.
This includes but isn’t limited to – generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias.
What does anxiety look like?
It’s important to note that anxiety presents itself differently in everyone. What one person feels and thinks will be different than another. However, there are several physical symptoms that people experience.
Understanding what anxiety looks like can help you connect with those with it much better and more deeply. A few symptoms to be aware of are restlessness, fidgeting, increased heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath, pacing, avoiding eye contact, difficulty concentrating, and panic attacks.
However, many people experience more physical symptoms like headaches, backaches, and stomach problems. Take some time to learn about anxiety and its effects on daily life so you can foster a meaningful relationship with people with the condition.
Ask what they need
When someone you know is dealing with anxiety, one of the most supportive and helpful actions you can take is to ask them directly what they need. Every individual’s experience with anxiety is unique, and what could work for one person doesn’t guarantee effectiveness in another.
By initiating an open and compassionate conversation, you create a space for the person to express their needs, preferences, and boundaries. This dialogue allows you to gain insight into their specific challenges, triggers, and coping mechanisms. It demonstrates your willingness to understand and support them in the most effective way possible.
Remember that each person’s needs may change over time, so maintaining ongoing communication and reassessing them regularly can ensure that you continue providing meaningful support and maintaining a fulfilling relationship.
Offer validation and acceptance
When trying to connect with a person with anxiety, it’s important to avoid any judgments and offer them validation and acceptance. First, let the person know that you’re a safe person. So much of anxiety is the sinking self-doubt that leaves a person questioning everything.
When they have a safe person, they can relax, explore their self-doubt, and receive reassurance and support to help reframe and refocus thoughts into a more positive narrative. Validation and acceptance are two important things that people with anxiety need in order to feel safe and able to connect.
How to be a safe person for people with anxiety:
- Show empathy, understanding, and awareness.
- Practice active listening.
- Acknowledge and validate feelings.
- Refrain from assuming things.
- Be patient.
Avoid trigger phrases
Trigger phrases like “calm down, and it’s not that bad” can make an anxious person feel unheard and unimportant. Telling someone to “calm down” will likely only increase their anxiety and have them spiraling even quicker.
A few other phrases to avoid are “relax, you worry too much, it’s all in your head, I know how you feel, and you’re too sensitive.” These phrases are demoralizing, invalidating, and won’t help create and maintain connections with people with anxiety.
Helpful phrases to use instead:
- I’m here for you.
- It’s okay to feel anxious.
- Would you like to talk about it?
- You’re not alone in this.
Go slow and respect boundaries
When connecting with people who experience anxiety, it is crucial to approach the connection with a mindset of going slow and respecting boundaries. Anxiety can make individuals feel overwhelmed or apprehensive in social situations, and pushing them beyond their comfort zones can exacerbate their distress.
By going slow, you allow them to set the pace and dictate the level of engagement they are comfortable with. This might involve giving them space when needed or taking breaks during conversations or activities.
Respecting their boundaries means being attentive to cues they provide and refraining from pressuring or pushing them into situations that may trigger anxiety.
By demonstrating patience, understanding, and respect for their limits, you create a safe and supportive environment that fosters trust and allows meaningful connections to develop at their own pace.
Develop a strong sense of self-awareness
Developing self-awareness is a powerful tool that can significantly enhance your ability to connect with a person who experiences anxiety. By cultivating self-awareness, you gain a deeper understanding of your own emotions, triggers, and reactions.
This heightened awareness enables you to approach interactions with empathy, patience, and sensitivity. As you become increasingly more aware of your own internal experiences, you can better relate to the challenges and struggles of individuals with anxiety. Self-awareness allows you to recognize your biases, judgments, and assumptions, helping you avoid inadvertently invalidating or dismissing their feelings.
By cultivating self-awareness, you create a space for open and authentic communication, demonstrating your willingness to listen and understand their unique experiences.
In conclusion, connecting with people who experience anxiety requires patience, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand their unique experiences. Adopting a supportive and compassionate approach can create an environment where individuals with anxiety feel safe, validated, and understood.
Remember, each person’s experience with anxiety is unique, so it’s important to approach them each as their own individual and tailor your support to their specific needs.
By fostering open communication, practicing empathy, and being safe, we can forge meaningful connections that promote well-being, understanding, and acceptance for everyone involved.
Photo Credit – CanvaPro – FatCamera from Getty Images Signature
Natasha MacFarlane is a writer, blogger, and mental health advocate. After being diagnosed in her 20’s with bipolar disorder, Natasha has worked tirelessly to educate others’, culivate community, and share her experiences to ensure no one ever feels alone. In doing so, Natasha has two self-published poetry books exploring some of her darkest times, 2 blogs, and an Instagram community that has grown exponentially in it’s only 6 months of being around. When Natasha isn’t writing, you can find her walking in nature with her toes in the grass, listening to her favorite true crime podcasts or playing soccer with her 3 kids. Natasha enjoys a slower pace of life in a small rural Manitoba town with her husband three kids and is fueled by her passion for words.