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Supporting a Loved One with Depression and Anxiety

August 3, 2023 | Katie Lawliss, Psy.D. | 12 min. read

Most of us know/love someone who struggles with anxiety or depression.

It can be confusing to know what we can do or say that will help them in times of need. Here are some ideas of how you can show your support to your loved one.

Validation:

While you may not completely understand why someone is depressed or exhibiting anxiety, you can still validate their concerns. Oftentimes, the worries may not seem logical to you but to your person, it makes perfect sense in their head. Each person has their own “stuff,” which means each person perceives things differently. You can help by validating your loved one by first acknowledging to yourself that this anxiety/sadness makes sense given their contextual outlook on life and personal history.

Phrases like “I know this is really hard”, “Your feelings are valid”, “I can see you are anxious, I am here for you” can really help your loved one. Oftentimes, we want to jump into fixing mode when we see someone we love in distress; however, by being an active listener and validating their experience, you can make a positive impact.

Supporting a Loved One with Depression and Anxiety OMHG Blog

Menu of Ideas:

“How can I help?” can be a great way to communicate with someone experiencing anxiety and depression but oftentimes the answers are “I don’t know” or they are deeply anxious/depressed they cannot come up with a response at all. When someone is anxious, their nervous system is in SOS mode. Due to this, logical and clear thinking gets overridden; therefore, it can be hard for the person to know what helps or to communicate what could help.

If you love someone who has anxiety or depression, it can be a great idea to come up with a menu of ideas for when they are anxious or in a depressive episode, BEFORE they are experiencing high anxiety or severe depression. At a time when they are not anxious/depressed, ask them what tends to help and what they like or dislike when they are feeling this way. At first they may have a difficult time coming up with this, but with more communication you can come up with a list of items to add to a menu.

This menu can be simple, like 3-4 things that usually help with anxiety or sadness. Or it can be more complex by breaking it down into categories such as 1. Physical/Sensory comforts 2. Words/Phrases that help 3. Prompts for coping skills 4. Care task help.

For example a menu for Jane could be:

  1. Use weighted blanket
  2. Sit outside for fresh air
  3. Do a guided meditation
  4. Hug or cuddle
  5. Watch a funny movie

An example menu for Michael could be:

  1. Physical Sensory Comforts:
    • Weighted blanket
    • Lights off
    • Changing into comfy clothes
    • Lighting a scented candle
  2. Words/Phrases That Help:
    • “I am here with you”
    • “We don’t need to be doing anything for me to still want to hang out with you”
    • “Your feelings are valid”
    • “I want to hear and listen to what you are worried about”
  3. Prompts for Coping Skills
    • “I can see you are anxious, would you like me to play your favorite guided meditation”
    • “I notice you seem stressed, would you like to go for a walk”
    • “It seems like you are feeling some anxiety about this, do you want to practice noticing 5 things we see, 4 things we hear, 3 things we feel, 2 things we smell, and 1 thing we taste?”
  4. Care Task Help
    • When Michael is anxious for a period of time he tends to not make himself meals, so you could offer to make him a meal or pick up his favorite one. You two can discuss what meals are good go-tos in times of stress when creating the menu.
    • When Michael is in a depressive episode, his room and apartment get messy because he does not have the energy to upkeep it. You can help him take out the trash or do a load of laundry.
    • When Michael is depressed or anxious, he gets overstimulated by his dog’s energy. You could offer to take his dog for a walk or to the park to expend some energy.

There are no right or wrong ways to create this menu, and it can change over time!

By creating this menu, two things happen. First, you know what helps sometimes and can offer specific help during times of stress. Then, it can be easier for the person to answer a close ended question such as, “Do you want me to get your weighted blanket?” instead of an open ended question like, “What can I do to help?”.

Checking In & Staying Connected:

You can show your ongoing support for the person by consistently checking in. They may not want to talk about how they are doing but you asking still shows that you care. You might be worried that asking about their anxiety or depression will remind them of their current struggles; however, people do not forget that they struggle in these areas. Thus, you bringing it up will not “remind them”. Even if the person seems to be doing okay, it can be good to directly ask “How has your anxiety/depression been lately?”, because we often use the phrase “How are you?” as a polite courtesy, so it may not feel like a true invitation to share how they are feeling. You do not need to push them into talking about it but it is still good to ask.

Even if your person has turned down plans 6 out of 7 times, it is still good to invite them. While you may know they are not up for an outing at the moment, it can still mean a lot to be invited. You can also offer low stakes plans, like watching a movie at their place, or just sitting together and splitting a pizza.

Have Your Own Support System

Loving someone who is struggling can be hard. Make sure you have your own support system and are taking good care of yourself. As flight attendants always say “Put your oxygen mask on before helping others” because you cannot help others if you are not helping yourself.

Supporting someone with depression and/or anxiety can be complex and these are just some suggestions on how to help your loved one. If you are looking for more support or suggestions, please reach out to set up an appointment with one of our therapists at OMH.

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