People with anxiety and depression often worry that they’ll be a burden or bring others down. It’s super hard work to pretend that you’re ok when you don’t feel it inside – it is energetically exhausting and often the reason why many isolate.
They may feel that it’s a weakness, that they’re not coping like everyone else. They’ll be looking around and comparing how they feel on the inside to everyone else’s outsides, which is never a fair comparison.
There’ll be part of them that hates the fact that they can’t fix themselves and so they can turn anger and frustration inwards, causing their critical mind to ramp up, triggering ‘not good enough’. They’ll feel guilt and shame and many other very difficult emotions.
There’ll be so much fear – fear that they’ll never get better, that they be stuck like this, anxious about being anxious, depressed about being anxious and anxious about being depressed, stuck in vicious cycles. There is nothing more scary than feeling like you’re losing your mind and you can’t control it.
On saying that, people do have to help themselves. Many services are self referral, it has to come from inside and they have to be ready. The people around them often feel helpless and powerless and don’t know what to do to help. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Encourage them to talk. There’s nothing worse than feeling terrible and having to put on a brave face. They often don’t want or need you to fix them, they just need to be heard and don’t want to feel alone with it.
2. Remind them to breathe – 478 breathing – breathing in for 4, holding for 7 and out for 8 engages the relaxation response and soothes the nervous system. It also distracts from the thoughts in their mind because they’re concentrating on their breath.
3. Ask them if they’d like to do something to distract them – play a game, cards, create or make something, engage in play or mindful activities.
4. Ask them if they’d like to go for a quick walk – it doesn’t have to be far or for long, around the block even. Inadvertently encourage them to get dressed, get them out of the house and maybe engage in nature if you’re near a park. Nature is very grounding. When you’re out, use the senses to ground them, what can you see, hear, feel, smell or taste. It’ll encourage them to be mindful, keep their inner critic distracted and give their mind a little peace.
5. Encourage them to exercise with you, try a class or some yoga – it may motivate them to be accountable by having someone to exercise with. Exercise releases positive endorphins, overrides stress hormones and uses up excess adrenaline.
Here’s a 15 minute yoga for anxiety video https://youtu.be/bJJWArRfKa0.
6. Please don’t tell them to cheer up, snap out of it or just don’t worry. If they could, they would – it’s not that easy. It just makes them feel judged or patronised. Don’t compare their lives to those in 3rd world countries either – they’re stuff is important to them! That just leads to more guilt.
7. Don’t be judmental about medication. Yes of course if you can get yourself out of it naturally then that’s great but its not always possible. There’s so much stigma or fear surrounding medication but actually anti-depressants can help them find middle ground, enough to have them gain the strength to heal – they can be literal life savers. It’s incredibly brave to admit that you need help – people find it really difficult accepting help, even in tablet form. Make it ok, if that’s what they need.
8. Do something nice together. Go the cinema, take a day trip, visit the seaside, cook them a nice meal, paint their nails. Depression and anxiety can make them feel super lonely, like they’re on the outside looking in. Do normal things, help them feel included in life, like they belong.
9. Write them a card telling them the things that you love about them. They can keep it and use it to look back on to lift their spirits.
10. Help them to create an SOS box – a box that they can go to when they’re not feeling great that has lots of things in that make them feel good. Some chocolate, a playlist of uplifting or soothing songs, a cwtchy blanket, a favourite smell, a good book, a teddy to cuddle if they’re feeling lonely – ask them what they need – make it together.
11. Maybe they’d like to attend a wellbeing course through Herts Mind Network https://www.hertsmindnetwork.org/ or the New Leaf College http://www.newleafcollege.co.uk/. Group settings can be fantastically supportive and help them to realise that they’re not alone. They meet connection needs, offer the opportunity to bond with others and ease loneliness and isolation.
12. Direct them to ted talks – they are fantastic TED Talks – Anxiety/Depression, for: https://www.youtube.com/playlist…
13. Encourage them to read books or buy a book for them. Concentration and memory can be impaired, reading the same line over and over again, direct them to Audible to listen to a book if that’s the case. Knowledge is power – helping them to understand what’s happening can take the fear out of it and empower them to begin their recovery journey and help themselves.
14. Reflect back how you’re finding them – they might not even realise how bad things are for them or how visable it is for others, sometimes someone simply reflecting back their own words can be a shock – ‘did I say that? Wow. Yes maybe I need help’.
15. There are services out there that can help. Ask if they’d like to talk to someone and access therapy, direct them to the counselling directory where they can look at pictures and profiles. They can meet several and chose the person that feels right to them.
16. Encourage them to access services – Herts Mind Network, Hertfordshire Nightlights, their GP, the Community Mental Health Team or the Crisis team depending upon the severity. There are also many helplines for different services; self harm, eating disorders, mental health, abuse. There are options – tell them that there is help available, find a number or website and encourage them to reach out.
17. Be honest if you’re worried about them, especially if they say something that set your alarm bells off ‘I’ve lost hope, feeling so hopeless/worthless/useless, don’t know how much longer I can go on like this’ or maybe you’ve noticed a change in their personality, They’ve become more withdrawn or quieter – Address it. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they’re feeling suicidal. It’s a difficult topic but might be the most important question you could ask.
18. If they do admit that they feel suicidal, ask them if they’ve made a plan, know how, where, when etc. Ask them if you can help them make a call or appointment to their GP. If they’re an immediate risk, call their GP, your local mental health crisis team or 999.