Living with anxiety can leave people feeling isolated and alone due to the perceived lack of understanding and support available to them. Sufferers often desperately want to reach out to loved ones for anxiety support but have no idea how to do so. They fear that others will see them as weak or incompetent, or that they’ll be known as the “crazy” one in their circle of friends and family. They are often afraid that disclosing their situation will bring about social repercussions, or that they will suddenly be seen in a different light. Many anxiety sufferers worry that their loved ones just won’t “get it,” and rather than support for anxiety, they’ll only bring about more isolation.
Why Open Up About Your Anxiety?
And this isn’t an entirely irrational concern. Despite the growing awareness of mental illnesses, as well as some efforts over the past decade to reduce the stigma, the unfortunate reality is that mental illness still carries a very real stigma today. Most people still do not feel comfortable speaking openly about their own mental illness. Yet it’s important to realize that an estimated 57.7 million adults — around a quarter of the population — suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in the United States alone. Nearly everyone has known someone who has a mental illness, even if they have not experienced it themselves.
A common mistake that anxiety sufferers make is believing they must suffer in silence. Constantly trying to hide the fact that you have anxiety can take its toll. Many people fear they’ll lose friends if they’re open about it, but the truth is that anxiety sufferers face a greater risk of losing friends when they attempt to conceal their anxiety. Social withdrawal is a common anxiety symptom, but if you’re not honest about the reason you’ve withdrawn, loved ones may reach their own inaccurate conclusions. But chances are that if you explain your situation to trusted friends and family members, you will begin to build an anxiety support system that will become invaluable to you. When loved ones are aware of what you’re going through, they can provide the support and encouragement you need.
5 Steps to Opening up to Your Loved Ones About Anxiety
Anxiety can be tough to explain, so it helps if you prepare a strategy. You can use these steps as a starting point.
1. You may want to start by telling one trusted person or a few select people rather than telling everyone right away. Choose a location where you feel safe and secure, such as your home or favorite coffee shop.
2. Make it clear that your goal is not to elicit sympathy, but rather to educate them about living with anxiety and help them understand what you need for anxiety support. Start off by explaining what your anxiety means for you. How does it manifest? Do you have an official diagnosis? Explain the symptoms of your daily anxiety, if that’s what you experience, as well as what happens during panic attacks, if you have them. (If you do have panic attacks, make sure your loved ones understand what happens so they can respond appropriately.) You may want to give your them links to informative websites or books where they can learn more about your disorder.
3. Explain the techniques and strategies you use to cope with your anxiety, such as relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, or measured breathing. You may also tell them if you’re seeing a therapist or taking any medications or supplements. But remember, you only need to disclose what you’re comfortable with.
4. Imagine situations you might be in with your family or friends where you are likely to experience anxiety. Think about the kinds of actions they could take that would help you in those situations, and outline those concrete suggestions to your loved ones when you talk to them. This will give them some straightforward, practical advice for how to offer you anxiety support. It’s easy to forget that just as we sometimes feel helpless because of our anxiety, the people who love us can also feel helpless when they don’t know how to alleviate our pain. They will likely feel much more at ease if they know what they can do to help.
5. Finally, you should explain that sometimes you may not know exactly what you need for anxiety support in the moment, and in those times, what you’re really looking for is the knowledge that someone is on your side. Sometimes just knowing you have a reliable support system is enough to get you through the worst of times.
If you just can’t figure out how you should approach your loved ones, or can’t stand the thought of having this conversation face-to-face, you can always send a letter or email. Psychology Today offers a great example to get you started – check out this “Letter to a Worrier’s Loved One.”