5 Things to Avoid When a Loved One Has Generalized Anxiety

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If you have a loved one with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you play an important role in helping that person feel supported and empowered. In doing so, you can help them improve and become less anxious.

While you may have the best intentions, there are some mistakes people make in trying to help someone with GAD that can actually make the loved one feel worse. By avoiding these mistakes and looking for ways you can help, your loved one will have the support that they need to manage their condition.

Don’t Say “Stop Worrying About It”

Your first instinct might be to try to take away your loved one's anxiety. You might say things like “it’s nothing to worry about," “stop worrying," or “it’s really not a big deal.” The problem is that this often comes off as patronizing and unsupportive.

The person with GAD usually recognizes on some level that the worrying is stronger than it should be. But stopping it seems very hard. They know that their reactions are irrational, and having people comment on their anxiety can make them even more self-conscious and nervous.

Instead, try saying and asking things to show that you are there for them without any judgment. Say something like:

  • “How can I be helpful?”
  • “It’s OK, I’m here with you."
  • “It sounds like this is really hard for you.”

Be careful not to minimize or invalidate what your friend is feeling. While it might not seem like a big deal to you, it is a big deal to them. Focus on being helpful and giving them the kind of support that they need.

Don’t Try to Solve Their Problems

After trying to take away their anxiety and failing, you may find yourself wanting to switch into “problem-solving mode." This is when you attempt to constructively solve or remedy the stressful situation for your friend.

While you may think you're assisting your friend, often it misses the mark on what could be most helpful, which is being emotionally supportive.

Just because someone has GAD does not mean that they aren’t intelligent or able enough to solve their own dilemmas. The time spent trying to reduce anxiety via problem-solving ends up being wasted.

Rather than launching into problem-solving, try taking a perspective that if you can be supportive and patient, your presence and understanding can often allow your friend to relax and work their problems out on their own.

Don’t "Over-Function"

When both of the above fail, some friends and family members will attempt to “over-function” as supports. They begin to virtually take on some of their friend’s problems and center their lives on being helpers. They may also take on a therapist role and attempt to "treat" the person.

Occasionally this can be necessary in extreme circumstances. In large doses, however, it can foster dependence and can begin to take an emotional toll on the helping friend. It can also make the person with GAD feel incompetent or untrustworthy, which only serves to worsen their anxiety.

Instead of leaping into action, encourage the person to get help for GAD, and work collaboratively to manage problems and anxiety with the person when they want to, not when you feel the need to.

Don't Make Their Anxiety Worse

It's important to validate what a person is feeling, but don't engage in co-rumination. Anxious people have a tendency to focus on the worst-case scenarios, so if you are having worry sessions where you both talk about your fears, it can add fuel to the fire.

One thing you can do that may help is to use a strategy that is often used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people learn to identify problematic thoughts and replace them with more helpful ones. When your friend is worried about something, ask them three questions:

  • What's the worst thing that could happen?
  • What's the best thing that could happen?
  • What's the most likely thing to happen?

While your friend probably has an immediate answer to the first question (since it's the exact scenario they are worrying about), it may take a moment to come up with a response to the other two. But thinking about those other scenarios can help minimize catastrophic thinking and replace it with more realistic expectations.

Don’t Lose Your Patience

Finally, it is easy for people who use any of the above-mentioned tactics to lose patience with their friend. GAD is a battle that some people will fight for many years. Simply solving the latest dilemma is unlikely to change the larger underlying problem.

Remain conscious of your role as a supportive friend, understand that your friend may be a “worrier” for a significant period of time, and make sure you utilize your own support system to avoid becoming stressed yourself.

A Word From Verywell

If you notice that anxiety is causing significant disruptions and distress in your loved one's life, encourage them to seek professional help if they have not already. You can also offer support by helping them find a doctor or offering to drive them to their appointment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with generalized anxiety disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


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