Last week I shared 28 ways to help stress and anxiety,
one of them being to have a good support system. Surrounding yourself with loved ones is so necessary for someone who has mental health struggles, but sometimes their well-meaning intentions can bring more harm than good. For example, when I first started getting really terrible panic attacks, Dave had no idea what to do, other than to tell me to just stop. He was doing the best he knew how, but as anyone who has ever suffered a terrible panic attack will tell you, stopping is easier said than done. So are many other things when it comes to mental health.
Over the years, Dave and I have communicated and reached an understanding about what works and what doesn't when it comes to being supportive in these situations. While I certainly don't have all the answers, nor am I a professional, I wanted to share what works for me and us because I have seen so many people asking "But what can I do? How can I support those who might be struggling?" in the wake of recent events and revelations that the mental health issues in our world are rising. Keep reading to see our tips, but again, keep in mind that these are things that work well for me/us, they may not work for everyone, and you should always consult a professional, your therapist, doctor, etc for the best plan of action.
How do you reach out and help those around around you that are struggling with things like anxiety and depression?What do you find helps and doesn't help?
Ask How They Are truly Doing // If you see someone that seems off or down, take the time to ask how they truly are. Not via text or by sliding into someone's DM's, not while you're distracted by your phone or shopping on Amazon, but truly, a face-to-face, heart-to-heart check-in. You might be surprised at how quickly they open up to something they're struggling with, if you only take the time to actually ask.
Create a Calm Environment // Light a candle, put on relaxing music, do whatever you can to create a calm outside for a person who feels anything but calm on the inside.
Don't Yell or Get Angry // As frustrating as it can be for the person providing support, since the apparent solution may appear obvious or easy, do your best to remain calm and understand that the same solution that looks easy to you doesn't look so simple or easy to the person struggling. On top of that, getting upset at someone for something they have no control over will only make that person feel even worse.
Don't tell someone to "Calm Down!" (or tell them to stop) // An anxious person in the middle of a panic attack wants nothing more than to calm down. But actually telling them to calm down is like telling the tide not to go in or out. In other words, it's not that easy. Be mindful that telling someone to calm down can be a huge trigger that makes the panic attack even worse, so just avoid the phrase altogether and instead use actions to help someone calm down (i.e. meditation). Which leads me to my next point...
Use Actions Versus Words // Words either go unheard, or can be a trigger to push someone further (case in point, above). Instead of just asking questions or talking, take the lead and take action. Mental health struggles can cloud someone's mind, making even simple decisions or tasks difficult, so you just outright helping or taking action will go much further than simply asking the person what they want or how you can help.
Agree On An Emergency Calm Action // For example, I've told Dave that if I'm having a panic attack to put on the 'Emergency Calm' on the Calm App. For you, your emergency calm might be calling a family member, going for a walk, have a favorite candle lit, etc.
Don't Ask "What can I do to help?" // Someone suffering from anxiety or depression generally isn't in the right mental head space to make sound decisions on what they actually need to help them. Instead, take the lead and do things like bring someone water, start a meditation, put on a favorite song, etc.
Respect Space + Boundaries // Be there and show your support, but at the same time, don't suffocate someone. Something like a panic attack can be incredibly suffocating as it is so if someone tries to give you a hug on top of that, you can only imagine how that might feel. That being said, don't be afraid to comfort someone or provide something like a hug, but just be mindful of signals they are giving you and respect those.
Photography: Urška & Domen, Florence, Italy