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To Anyone Who's Struggling to Understand Their Loved One's Anxiety

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You may have stumbled here because you love someone who struggles with mental illness. You want to help and understand, but you might not know how. Part of the problem is that the person struggling might not be able to explain their thoughts, feelings, etc. to you because they don’t know how to express it so you’ll understand. Here’s a glimpse of what your loved one with anxiety might be going through based on my personal experience:

I’m sitting on the couch, doing absolutely nothing because, quite frankly, I just don’t have the energy. I woke up two hours ago, but I feel like I’ve been up for 48 hours straight. The TV is blasting, the kids are shouting and running, I have a million things running through my mind. It’s exhausting. I sit there and worry, wonder, plan and think about the nonsense crap that shouldn’t matter. At some point, I wonder why I try so hard to do everything when I feel like I’m going backward. No matter how hard I try I always feel like I’m failing, I failed, or I’m going to fail.

I start to spiral. My body temperature rises, my heart beat quickens, my mind races faster. The anxiety has kicked in and I’m irritated — at life, at myself, at the kids, at everything and nothing all at the same time. Within moments, I’m yelling. I need quiet, I need to be alone, I need a freaking reset button, and I need to run away because right now I just can’t do any of it anymore. Why am I mad? No clue.

Not every day is this difficult, and some are much worse. This is my life with anxiety and it is an uphill battle to manage my symptoms. Yes, I take medication. And yes, I go to counseling. But anxiety is a chronic illness, and it takes a lot of work to manage. Will I ever know a life without anxiety? Maybe not.

What I need, and what others with mental illness may need, is a caring, compassionate and supportive environment — one that fosters growth, allows for treatment and allows for failures.

There are ways you can help your loved one with mental illness. There are also things I think you shouldn’t do or say. I spoke to some real people struggling with mental illness to see what they wished their loved ones would do for them. These are a few of the responses I got, and some are my own suggestions after living life with moderate anxiety and major depressive disorder. I am lucky enough to have a strong support system of caring people who actually help me through my struggles, but I know this isn’t true for everyone. These are some of the ways you can show your loved one you care about and support them:

1. Understand My Diagnosis

Take the time to gain some knowledge about my disorder. Speak with professionals. Read a book or two. Do some online research — something. I’d love to be able to give you all the details, but I can’t. Even if I had them, I may not be able to explain them to you well enough. Before you respond, please just try to understand.

2. Don’t Try to “Fix” Me

I’m not “broken.” This is who I am. I have to live with it and you should try to as well. I’ve managed to cope up until today. When I’m in the middle of a breakdown, I don’t need you to resolve the situation. I just need you to be there for me and let me know you care and you’re here for me no matter what.

3. Don’t Judge Me

Medication can be a necessary aspect of mental illness treatment. It may be required by your loved one with mental illness to be on medication to manage symptoms. Understand that mental illness is as much an illness as any physical ailment. You wouldn’t judge someone with a physical illness for being on medication, so please don’t judge me for being on my medication.

4. Help With Housework/Parenting

Some days are worse than others. There will be days I struggle to care for myself, let alone a house or children. Offer to give me a break occasionally and understand I’m not taking advantage of you. I really do just need some space, quiet or alone time. This is hard to admit because I want to be able to do all of these things, but some days I just can’t.

5. Let Me Vent

Sometimes an open ear is all I need. Just listen to what I have to say. Don’t respond, don’t guess that you understand how I’m feeling. Just listen. There are times where talking through an episode is the most therapeutic thing for me. Talk therapy is real, and it works!

6. These Feelings Are Real

Please don’t tell me or make me feel like this is “all in my head.” This is a mental disorder, yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m making it up. Try to put yourself in my position. Everyone feels things in a different way and telling me I’m feeling things “wrong” is hurtful. It’s actually harmful.

If you’ve tried to understand from their explanation but are still struggling, these reputable agencies can help you find the answers to your biggest questions regarding mental illness. Learning more about your loved one who is struggling with mental illness can give you a chance to learn the symptoms and possibly recognize them so you can be more helpful.

Follow this journey here.

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Unsplash image via Inaki Del Olmo

Originally published: May 8, 2018
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