Maybe you haven’t been caught in the grip of anxiety or depression, but you see a family member, friend or co-worker struggling with feelings that are hard to understand.
Or maybe you have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past and you want to be there for others who are suffering now.
If you are wondering if someone you know is dealing with anxiety or depression, here are some signs to look for: They may be withdrawing from social situations, admitting to not sleeping well, crying often, have a loss of appetite, not putting much effort into their appearance, turning to drugs or alcohol often, and a loss of desire in areas such as relationships and health.
You may even know more than one person going through this since one in five adults are affected by mental illness, including anxiety and mood disorders. According to the CDC/NCHS, “antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005–2008 and the most frequently used by persons aged 18–44 years. From 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%.”
Although it is very common, it is easy to feel alone and misunderstood when experiencing anxiety and/or depression. It can be described as being inside a dark box all alone, unable to know how to escape, which can be extremely frustrating and frightening.
It is also not a topic that is discussed or admitted often since it can feel embarrassing and create shame and guilt However, it can be difficult to hide, especially from people who care and are noticing the changes.
So what do you do if you realize someone you love is showing signs of anxiety or depression?
It has been known that people who have never gone through any type of anxiety or depression can easily judge or criticize other's feelings and actions. Often times you may try to be there to help but if you have never experienced it yourself or aren't currently going through it, it may feel difficult or impossible. You may want to provide love, support and encouragement but finding it draining on your own energy and life. You may even want to tell your loved one to “snap out of it” or “everything is fine, just stop worrying”. You may think that it is helpful, but to them, it may be making it worse...
You might feel helpless and want to give up, but fortunately, there are quite a few ways to offer hope to someone who is struggling.
Here are some tips to provide hope through this experience, especially since more and more people are struggling with these concerns throughout life:
Listen with open ears and an open heart.
That may be all they need at this time. Maybe they don't feel heard within their life and just need someone to be there who isn't currently on the emotional rollercoaster along with them. Being a shoulder to cry on may be one of the best things you can do so they can release some of their withheld emotions and begin to heal.
Relate, if you can.
Try to think back on a time when you had strong emotions such as sadness or fear. Put yourself back to that experience and what you were feeling and what you wanted/needed most. Share your story with them and how you got through it, if relevant.
Don't pretend you get it, if you don't.
Acknowledge their feelings but don't say, “I totally get what you're going through”. It's not fair and they may become closed off or even defensive. You want to be someone they can trust, not just another person who they feel doesn't understand them.
Do not give advice.
This is extremely important. This is really the last thing they want to hear if they are not ready for it. Instead, get really curious and offer a safe and comfortable space. When they are ready for advice, they will let you know.
Try practicing these questions I ask my own clients and see where it may lead:
- Where are you feeling stuck or in pain?
- If you could wave a magic wand (or have 3 wishes, etc.) and have it all feel better, what might that be like?
- If you had all of that, what could you do in life that you can't do now?
- What would having that do for you?
- How can I support you at this moment?
- What would bring you some sense of peace and joy today? (Request a hot bubble bath, long beach walk, massage, funny movie, etc.)
Put up boundaries.
If you are draining all of your energy and feeling negative emotions yourself, it is not helping you, the other person or the world. Make sure to take time to care for you. What makes you happy and relaxed? What if that time for you offers inspiration to the other person suffering?
Take a break.
Taking quiet time to contemplate and journal may be a good start and break from the situation. We are all doing the best we can, with what we know. Life isn't “perfect”. There are ups and downs and learning how to cope with our own emotions and thoughts is extremely important.
Decide how much time you can really put into this relationship.
If it's your child, it may be more often. If it's a significant other or friend, it may be less. Either way, spending time with someone through this can really affect you even if it doesn't seem so just yet. You may be avoiding it, but it could be time to think about your relationship, where it may be leading and how much you are receiving from it.
The first step to helping others is by helping ourselves. If you are unable to be that person for someone right now, that is okay. Accept it for what it is and see if they are willing to talk to someone else. A therapist or coach who they can relate to could be very beneficial. If they're not open to it just yet, give them time. It may even be helpful for you to find a good friend, coach or therapist to give you support, encouragement and a safe place to open up about your own feelings through this.