Helping Others with Anxiety - dummies

By Christopher Mogan, Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith

Helping others with an anxiety issue is a common experience in life. When a parent notices hesitation and doubt in her child’s response to swimming in the water or facing a dog, this can really help in managing this day-to-day experience for the child. A work colleague can be an excellent support for someone experiencing the stress of extra duties. Normal anxiety responses lead to a repertoire of responses for adaptive and maturing behaviours.

A child, hesitant at first, learns to embrace new experiences, different activities or new friends once he is encouraged. Sometimes, fearful responding becomes a learned behaviour in over-protective families or communities.

There’s a steeper learning curve for children emerging from an over-protective environment into the stages of increased group and social participation. Transition days assist young children to adapt to graded separations from their parents at childcare, pre-school and even the early days at primary school. The child is learning to trust other adults, to socialise with other children, and to grow through new experiences of learning and play that ultimately builds friendships.

A skilled childcare worker, teacher or sporting coach can identify apprehension and uncertainty in children in their care, and provide growth opportunities that will be of life-long significance.

It’s better for someone to experience anxiety and learn that it passes, rather than to be an over-protective parent or friend rescuing the person from an adaptive learning experience. If the anxiety-driven behaviours are impacting on the day-to-day life of someone in a pervasive sense, the need for a skilled caring response becomes very clear.

While experienced health workers are trained to plan the degree of intervention required, an adult assisting another adult who seems to be struggling with anxiety needs to be inclusive and supportive as a first response. This will enable the helping person to pick the appropriate moment, the right manner and carefully chosen words to highlight how anxiety is impacting on their friend’s behaviour.

The two behaviours that denote anxiety more than anything are: seeking reassurance by an anxious person from others; or using avoidance as a safety behaviour. When a friend is over-doing it in seeking reassurance about their work, their relationships or other aspects of their experience, this will raise an alarm bell in the friend or associate who knows them well.

There are steps you can take to assist a friend in lowering their sensitivity to anxiety. This involves gradually tackling situations they have been persistently avoiding in a step-by-step manner. For example, feeling comfortable about going to a cinema when the closed-in space might be the trigger for a panic attack. Fearing that outcome, the person avoids ever going to a cinema alone.

Avoidance and reassurance-seeking are anxiety safety behaviours that prevent a person from ever feeling that they could overcome their anxiety. The safety behaviour of avoidance might appear to be a helpful strategy when, in fact, it creates more anxiety and robs the person of the opportunity to prove to themselves that they can handle the previously feared circumstances.