How to Help Someone With Anxiety About the Unknown
It isn’t always easy to know how to help someone with anxiety, especially when we are sharing the same worries and concerns. When it comes to the unknowns in life, we have all had our fair share of facing and dealing with them. Global conflicts, pandemic lockdowns, loss, layoffs, and more. The worry about those most vulnerable. The worry about our future, our families, our own health.
The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 has escalated anxiety even for some of the most non-anxious among us, and the uncertainty about . For people who experience anxiety regularly, the coronavirus unknowns have loomed especially large, and anxiety and depression prevalence is up 25% worldwide according to the World Health Organization. Most of us have people in our lives who are still suffering from all the worry, and it isn’t easy to know how to help someone with anxiety.
Guidelines exist about how to help someone with anxiety, whether we live with them, chat with them via online video, or see them by chance locally. But I am going to focus on just one: Listening.
Listening is the most important thing we can do when it comes to helping someone with anxiety.
Why? Two reasons:
1. Our role is to help them to focus on their anxiety and channel it for their own benefit. Our role is not to talk about how we think they should feel, or what they should do. When we tell them what to do, or how to feel, we undermine their confidence, and unwittingly disempower them.
2. Well-meaning suggestions can also disrupt them, especially comments like, “Don’t be afraid,” or “there’s nothing to worry about,” or “no sense getting worked up over it.” These chime-ins, well-meaning as they may be, are actually dismissive and risk adding anxiety to the sufferer, rather than alleviating it as intended. An anxious person can feel guilty about being anxious on top of what they’re worried about, which is generally not what is intended when you may helpfully suggest not to worry.
Instead asking guiding questions can help ensure a worrier knows you’re listening, that you care. Let them know you are there, that they are not alone, and you want to support them with what they need.
To help someone with anxiety talk about their feelings, you can ask them how they feel, what they fear, and what would make them feel best. These are prompting questions for them to talk, and you to listen.
Once they have your ear, they will feel more grounded, and you will too.
And importantly, once grounded, compassionate questions can help prompt an anxious person to reflect on their experience, and what they need to do calm down. Listening provides a springboard for an anxious person to take control, and get the solutions they need.
Listening and compassion is the best thing we can do to help an anxious person to feel grounded, and find their own secure footing from which to regain balance.
From there, they can forge their own solutions for handling the unknowns to come.