Apparently, not enough people know how to support someone with depression or anxiety. As these are the most common mental illnesses that all of us are likely to experience to some degree, I wanted to give my advice.
(By the way, I have personally suffered from both, helped friends and family through both, and have led a support group locally for both)
It’s not your job to fix them
It is not your duty to give everything to them. You can’t suddenly become their doctor, their healer, their saviour. Don’t force them into following your rules. But also don’t put pressure on yourself to be their saviour either.
I get that people with depression or anxiety can be hard to be around. I totally get that! But imagine how it feels to be around that all day every day because all of those things are going on inside your own head. Not great, is it?
So no, you don’t have to be there 24/7 and give all your energy until you yourself is depressed, but you should be there. That person should trust you to be someone who offers comfort, simple.
It could be helpful to support them in facing the causes, if there are any. As I say, you shouldn’t fix them or aim to do so. This is for them to do. And you shouldn’t push too hard or put ideas into their head.
However, if someone’s A or D is brought on by something like body image or a failed venture or social media and comparisons etc., then this may be something you can support them through specifically by getting to the root cause.
This is things like encouraging (and perhaps participating in) a social media detox. Delete the apps from your phone and encourage them to do the same. Or you could help them to dress to their body type and find a sense of confidence. Or support them in healthy eating if they are of an unhealthy weight (again, you could do this together which helps a lot more).
This is a slippery slope, though, so it does depend on the person and the circumstances.
In an episode/period of high depression or anxiety, do NOT do the following:
- Draw attention to their “weird behaviour“
- Make them feel weird, silly, or dramatic (by calling them these things or pulling uncomfortable faces)
Instead, you should try to:
(Not in any particular order)
- Help them to breathe with focused intention (in through the nose, hold, out through the mouth; follow the path of the breath)
- Distract them; do something else that takes their mind off the symptoms (but do so kindly)
- Go through the thoughts, feelings and issues within them and offer supportive words and a shift in perspective (get them to think differently/challenge the negative thoughts)
- Ask them what would make them feel better right at that moment, and try to help them to do it
Most of us, not just those suffering from anxiety or depression, just want to feel heard and understood. A & D can be very isolating. You think you’re alone in it. You think you have been sentenced to a personal battle that you must face alone. So, this is where Empathy comes in.
If you can give Empathy to someone with these struggles, it goes a long way. It says, “I see you, I hear you, I appreciate what you’re going through, I understand as best I can, and you’re not alone.“
How beautiful is that?
You achieve this by listening to them instead of silencing them or forcing them to move on or get over it.
You achieve this by doing the research yourself and developing a better understanding of A & D; education goes a long way, and learning for yourself has many benefits.
And you achieve this by practising compassion first and foremost.
Be there with them, open your heart, don’t shame them.
- Consider doing something with them that would help them to cope better e.g. attending a yoga class together, meditating together, having “share sessions” about feelings and thoughts, etc.
- Encourage them to keep a journal or a thought-capture diary, and encourage them to challenge negative thoughts or to witness patterns in thought which may indicate a bigger damaging belief.
- Help them to find an Anchor Practice: (this is a term I may have coined myself or heard somewhere!) This is finding a practice or phrase or item that they associate with calm, perspective, and grounding. They know they can do it/ use it to anchor themselves to what’s more comfortable e.g. In times of anxiety or low mood, I will reach for my journal and free-write for 15 minutes; or, in these times I will text my friend and she will recite the words “you’re not alone, you are in control, you will be OK” as a mantra; using I phrases helps for empowerment like “I am enough, I am strong, I trust myself” – something like that, whatever you find that works.
I wanted to keep this short because anxiety and depression aren’t simple. Not everyone suffers in the same way.
Some experiences are very specific and are triggered by certain things. Some people’s symptoms were caused by events or life circumstances, while others have an innate chemical imbalance. Some people have other disorders like Autism or Bipolar Disorder or BPD, which brings on episodes of A & D. Basically, everyone is different.
But the things that never change when helping them are the things listed above:
- Never try to “fix” them.
- Never dismiss or silence them.
- In the moment, support them through it.
- Cultivate empathy and understanding.
That’s all anyone really needs.
If someone is really struggling, and they haven’t yet been to a doctor, then support them in going and getting help. The healthcare services aren’t great, but it is always important to try and see what they can do.
Other than that, you can only support them. Encourage them to breathe as breathing is how we regain control, centre ourselves, and be present, which is calming. Help them to find methods that work for them to reduce the symptoms and cope better (again, everyone is different but encourage them to explore to find what works).
Just care and be there.
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!
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