There has been a stark rise in anxiety since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the advocacy group Mental Health America, which offers an anonymous online screening tool, the number of anxiety screenings in May was 370 percent higher than it was in January.
The coronavirus pandemic has triggered deep fears — of the virus itself as well as the economic hardships and social isolation that have resulted from it — which can increase anxiety both for those prone to it, as well as for those who may have never experienced it before.
To help, we asked Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, co-creator of Life Time Mind, to offer guidance on ways we can support our loved ones during these tough times. If you have a friend or family member who has been experiencing feelings of stress and worry, try these tips next time you connect with them. Or, if you are experiencing anxiety, share this list with your loved ones so they know how best to support you.
- Encourage vulnerability. Some people might feel uneasy about sharing their thoughts. Tell them you’re there for them and would love to hear how they are feeling.
- Ask how you can best support them. Do they need to vent — or are they looking for advice? Be sure to clarify instead of automatically trying to “fix” their feelings.
- Practice reflective listening. After your friend shares their concerns with you, repeat them back so they know you heard them. Hearing worries reflected back can also help people change their perspective.
- Help them take action. Ask your loved one what they’re most worried about and if there’s an action they can take to feel better. Most concerns can dissipate quickly with an action. For example, if they’re fearful of not being able to pay a bill, can they call the service provider to make other arrangements?
- Build confidence. Let your friend talk you through their best- and worst-case scenarios. Ask them to tell you how they’ll make it through. Point out the strengths you see in them and how capable they are of handling things.
- Find a silver lining. Ask your loved one to identify one good aspect of this difficult situation. If they can’t see anything, share your point of view.
- Practice gratitude. Shift the conversation to things they’re grateful for in their life. Tell them three things you appreciate about your friendship and ask them to share too.
- Be positive. Acknowledge their concerns, then ask if it would help to move the conversation to something else to take their mind off their worries for a bit. Spend time swapping favorite stories, sharing inside jokes, or talking about what you’re most excited to do once everyone can get back to “normal” life.
- Suggest professional help. If your loved one’s anxiety is unrelenting or causing other symptoms, suggest finding a qualified therapist.