Supporting Somebody Who is Struggling With Anxiety, Panic Disorder, or Agoraphobia? This is for You!
This episode has been a highly requested episode, and I’m so grateful that so many of you reached out and asked me to create it. I personally wanted to create this episode for a couple of reasons. The first is, I know how hard it can be to communicate to somebody what it is that you’re struggling with, even though you’re living it every day. I know how tough it can be to find the words to explain it all, and I also know how tough it can be to share the stuff you’re struggling with because it can be incredibly emotional and even embarrassing. And I want to make this less tough for you. And the second reason is, I want both people to feel supported and equipped to help each other, meaning the supporter and the person struggling.
So my ultimate hope is that maybe you’re both sitting down together listening to this episode. And throughout the episode, I hope that you both write things down, and nod at relevant points, and really connect with each other. I hope that you do some validating, and empathizing, and really get vulnerable with each other. Because if this isn’t your first time with me, you know how much I love vulnerability. I truly believe that vulnerability is a huge fighter of fear.
So if you’re listening to this episode as the person struggling, my hope is that this episode helps you to find the words and the courage to be vulnerable and to share what you’re actually struggling with with those closest to you so that they can fully support you. And because I recognize that we’re all very different and have different experiences and struggles, and it’s not possible for me to cover all things in this episode, I’ve created a downloadable resource for you that you can find here. I created this resource because it can be tailored specifically to you and your struggles. I designed it in a way that will help you to be able to better define and share what you’re specifically struggling with and how you can best be supported. I encourage you to download it, print and fill it out, and use it as a tool to help you have a helpful and healthy conversation with whomever you want to share it with.
And if you’re listening as somebody who is supporting someone who is struggling, I hope that this episode gives you lots of insights and knowledge that you can use to help you to continue to support your loved one, maybe without it feeling so tough.
And before I dive in, I really want to say this… If you are the supporter of somebody who is struggling, I want you to really hear me. I know that sometimes you may get frustrated, and upset, and be really confused, and feel like you aren’t being helpful, and you may be the one who bears the brunt of what your loved one is struggling with. And I want you to recognize and know that what you’re also going through is hard. It’s tough to support somebody through tough stuff, and you’re doing a good job. Your loved one doesn’t take you for granted. They appreciate every ounce of your love and support, even when it may not seem that way.
And I know that it may be really hard for you to understand what your loved one is going through because you haven’t lived it yourself. But the reality is, you don’t have to fully understand it in order to support your loved one. But, what I will share in this episode will help you to have a better understanding so that you don’t feel so in the dark, maybe frustrated, and feeling a little hopelessness yourself.
Alright, so I’m going to dive in and shed some light on what it’s actually like, and feels like, to struggle with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia.
I want you to think about a time that you felt incredibly scared or uncomfortable. And maybe for you it was while you were riding a rollercoaster. You know that feeling you get as the cart is making its way up the clickity incline and it’s just rounding the top where you know the drop is coming? Yeah, that feeling. Or maybe for you it’s when you were trying something new for the first time, or when you were going out on a first date, or maybe it was while getting blood drawn, or maybe it was when you knew you had a little too much speed on your bike and you knew that a crash was inevitable and it wasn’t going to look so pretty.
And I want you to really think about how you felt in this moment. Maybe your heart was pounding, maybe you were sweating a lot, maybe you were shaky, maybe you even felt lightheaded, maybe you had a lump in your throat, maybe you felt lots of dread, and maybe you felt like you were making the wrong decision and you just wanted to run away from all of the things you were feeling right then in that moment but you knew you couldn’t.
Now I want you to imagine yourself feeling this way while sitting in the comfort of your own home, or while driving in your car, or while sitting at work, or while walking around a store, or while being on a really fun trip just sitting poolside with your friends. But instead of it being a quick and passing feeling, it’s something that hangs around for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, or it comes and goes in waves all day. And you start to feel like things are really unpredictable. Like the feeling could pop up at any minute and you really don’t want it to. And when it does pop up, you feel like you can’t handle the feeling for another two seconds.
And even though there’s no real cause right in front of you to feel scared or uncomfortable, like a rollercoaster or you getting your blood drawn, you can’t stop this feeling. And you know that there’s really no reason to be feeling it, and you know that it’s silly and irrational, but it’s there and you can’t make it go away. You can’t make these sensations, the symptoms, and the thoughts go away. And because you continue to feel all these things with everything you do and with everywhere you go, you start desperately trying to figure out how to not feel this way because you hate feeling it so much.
You feel trapped, and out of control, and you feel like you can never just take a breath and be at peace because this feeling might pop up. You feel like you have no freedom to do things, everyday things, without feeling incredibly scared. It feels like you’re on a never-ending loop of fear. It feels like you’re constantly bracing for something terrible.
And because you know it’s all so silly and in your head, you don’t want to share it with anyone for the fear that they’ll judge you and think you’re crazy or weird. You feel lots of shame and embarrassment surrounding what you’re struggling with. And it’s so isolating. You’re convinced that you are the only one who experiences all of this.
And speaking of not wanting to share what you’re struggling with for fear of being judged, I want to take a few minutes here and share some of the things that people often wish they could say but feel they can’t, because knowing this stuff will also help you to better support your loved one.
I feel trapped in lots of places and situations because I’m constantly convinced that I’m going to feel really anxious and I won’t be able to handle the feelings wherever I am. I don’t want to freak out, or have a panic attack, or make a scene, in a place or situation that I can’t easily get out of.
I hate that I fear doing things that other people do without hesitation - like driving in cars, going to appointments, waiting in lines, leaving the house, and being away from home… I know it’s silly that I am scared while doing these things, and I know that I have no reason to be scared, but I am and I feel like I have no control of it.
Things that may be really simple and easy for you aren’t so easy for me. I’m constantly filled with anxious thoughts and feelings, and I’m often trying to prevent myself from spiraling.
I feel like I always have to be in control, and have an out or an escape plan, just in case I feel really anxious.
I’m often mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. It might not always look like I’m doing a whole lot, but I’m constantly thinking, feeling, fearing, struggling, and working so hard to recover, all while trying to just do all of the everyday things that I have to do.
Some of my fears are super irrational, and I know it, but the feelings that accompany them are very real and they make things really tough.
I often feel like I’m letting myself and others down, you included. I beat myself up and convince myself that you and others just think that I’m a burden.
I’m worried that you’ll reach your enough point and not want to be in my life anymore.
I often feel like I’m not the best partner, parent, child, friend, or loved one because of what I struggle with, and also because there are so many things that I feel like I can’t do right now.
I don’t want to feel as though I need to rely on you or on others, but I often feel unsafe and really uncomfortable when I’m alone.
Sometimes when I’m with you or others, I want nothing more than to be alone because I don’t want anyone to see me anxious or experience a panic attack.
I often play out the worst case scenario in my head, and I usually convince myself that I shouldn't or can’t do things even though I really want to do them.
I spend so much of my time feeling scared, and I often dread just getting out of bed some days. I feel like I’m missing out on life and there are so many things I want to do. Deep down, I know that I’m capable, I just can’t see how I’m ever going to recover. Sometimes I just feel really hopeless and lonely.
I really hope that these things give you a better glimpse into what your loved one is going through. And now, I want to segue and I want to share with you some helpful tips and tools that will help you to support your loved one, and also to support you in making this all a little less hard.
01. You can’t overcome your struggles for your loved one, so what’s most important for you to do is to just be there and be supportive. This can look like saying…
I’m here for you.
I’m always going to support you.
I love you.
And it can also look like asking your loved one what they need and what would be helpful to them.
What can I do?
How can I be helpful?
And in moments of anxiety or panic, you can ask…
What can I do?
Would it be helpful if I gave you a hug?
Would it be helpful if I just sat here and didn’t say anything?
Would it be helpful if we took a walk?
What do you want to do?
And really start paying attention to their responses and what’s helpful to them. You’ll have to do a lot less asking if you’re really listening and paying attention. And for the person who is struggling, you have to be helpful in practicing communicating what’s truly going on and what’s going to be helpful to you. And this might be hard for you to do initially, but it’s important that you are able to communicate how you feel and what’s helpful for you. And this will likely be a learning curve for you and your loved one, so it’s important to be patient and gentle with each other.
02. When your loved one is feeling anxious or experiencing a panic attack, don’t try to problem solve for them or find a fix. I know that you might want to help your loved one by distracting them or by removing them from the place or situation, but they can absolutely work through the anxiety and panic within themselves and right where they are. They don’t need you to come swooping in and make them not feel anxious (because you can’t, right?). They just need you to…
03. Listen and validate. Oftentimes, the person just needs to be heard and validated. This can look like saying…
I’m sorry you’re feeling anxious right now.
I know that this is hard for you, I’m sorry.
You are so strong and capable, you will work through this.
I’m proud of you for being brave. (This one can go a long way!)
That must have been hard. I’m sorry you experienced that.
04. (Gently) encourage them to do the hard stuff, and remind them of just how capable, brave, and amazing they are. Your loved one might have a tendency to want to avoid things, or to run, or talk themselves out of things, and it can be incredibly helpful if you gently remind them of just how capable they are of facing hard stuff.
05. Help them to recognize and celebrate their wins! Oftentimes people who are struggling tend to only see the bad rather than the good. So when your loved one does something that you know was likely hard for them, even if it was small, encourage them to acknowledge what they did and help to celebrate it with them. Tell them that you’re proud of them!
06. Allow yourself to get upset or frustrated. I’m not saying to get upset or frustrated and lash out at your loved one, but you are absolutely allowed to get upset and feel frustrated at times. Allow yourself to feel your emotions.
07. Take some time to yourself to rest and recharge. We all need time to rest and recharge, and you deserve it. Take time to yourself and continue to do things you enjoy doing.
08. Keep being supportive, loving, encouraging, and cheering your loved one on! Honestly, a lot of it comes down to just knowing that your loved one can count on you to just keep being you and to keep supporting, loving them, encouraging them, and cheering them on. Continue to let them know that you’re there for them, that you’re proud of them, and that you know that they absolutely can (and WILL) kick anxieties butt!
Alright, I hope this all has been incredibly helpful for both the person struggling and the person supporting. And if you haven’t already, I really want to encourage you to download the resource and take a few minutes to complete it so that you and your loved one can have a really helpful and healthy conversation. And please, share today’s episode with anyone you may feel needs it.
Okay, until next time! Keep taking healthy action.