How often do you wonder what the “rules” of anxiety are? What “rules” does anxiety impose on the person living with it? What are the “rules” for actually responding to a loved one or friend experiencing the grip of anxiety?

The unspoken and imposed rules for those suffering from anxiety are many, but the most notable are the following:

– It affects every facet of your life.
– The constant tension, irritability, and fear seep into every part of your daily activities.
– You may snap at the people you love because they’re doing something that makes you tense.
– Sleeping so lightly that every noise wakes you up.
– Anxiety shapes your day.

Anxiety is such a powerful emotion. It’s hard to explain how it truly frightens you to the point where is controls your life. It feels like being in an emotionally abusive relationship with negative thoughts in your head. It feels like there is no escape. For people living with anxiety, their thoughts can feel like a ball and chain, weighing them down, and not letting them go.

The paralyzing self-doubt that comes along with anxiety can manifest itself into procrastination when it comes to doing things with your life or certain tasks. It makes you seem lazy.

There are several well-intentioned responses that are ineffective and backfire when responding to someone who is battling anxiety. They are often just as frustrating, anger and stress provoking as the anxiety itself.

– “It’s going to be okay, trust me!”
– “There is nothing to be scared of!”
– “Let me tell you all the reasons you don’t have to stress!”
– “Don’t be such a worrier!”
– “I don’t understand why you are so worried!”

Five “rules” of efficient and helpful ways to respond to someone who is anxious:

1. Respond to the body’s reaction to stress. Do some deep breathing or visualization with them. These exercises redirect the response of the body. It brings them back to a calm place. This also allows a child to take in and digest what you are saying.

2. Validation is key. Say something like, “I can see you are scared/nervous. I have been scared and nervous before too; I know something about how bad that can feel.”

3. After the person is calm, teach them the tool of self-disputation. Feelings are not fact; they are feelings. Teach a child to say something like, “I don’t think you are true.” Challenging the feelings is a powerful way to quiet worry and build self-confidence and self-reliance.

4. Try your hardest not to label your child (calling them a worrier etc.), instead, when s/he is relaxed, explain that worrying does serve a purpose (it can motivate and help us problem solve). Make sure your child knows that everybody worries. S/he is NOT alone.

5. Connect with your child when they are anxious. Try to recall a time when you felt genuine fear, and tell your child you understand. Let him/her know you see what he is going through. This is most effective after you have recalled a time where you have been there yourself. Say something to your child, like I see you are going through something challenging and tough, What can I do to help, make it easier for you?