I have compassion for those who have a personal relationship with someone diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In the six years since my diagnosis, I have had the singular pleasure of meeting those who understand and know how to help keep the doom to a dull roar, as well as those who have no concept of what might trigger within me a complete withdrawal from reality. For those who have never known someone with GAD, or might be struggling with coping methods, I will offer a few pointers.
The difficult thing about my GAD is that often, many things can be labeled a trigger. In my case, health issues for me or my partner, financial or job related woes tend to be at the top of the list. However, the very worst one for me is fear of confrontation or of being an imposition on another individual. The very idea of either of those situations makes my stomach knot, my palms get clammy and my mind start leaping to the worst possible outcome. To help with this, the loved one of the GAD individual can establish the most common triggers, and help the individual either avoid the trigger, or minimize the impact.
When it comes to minimization, slowly urging the GAD individual toward the “big picture” is very useful. Use logic in a non-demeaning way; point out gently that the anxiety inducing situation will likely not have a monumental impact, and even if it does, you will be there to help deal with any fall out. One very useful method I employ is the “five hour” mantra. Ask the panicked person if the trigger they are worried about will matter in five hours. If so, how about five days? Eventually, you will get to a point that helps the person expand the bubble of focus to the position that they may see beyond the anxiety, thus reducing the panic level.
Remember, you are there to be helpful, not to be their therapist. Even if you think they should just buck up and get over their worried state, do not do things to push their boundaries. Save the psychology for the professionals, because every individual is different, and there’s always something beneath the surface you may not understand. Growing angry, impatient, demanding or unresponsive to a GAD individual is likely to do more damage and will definitely not give you the results you want – a calm, reasonable person. Suggestions to seek therapy to those who have not may not be a bad idea, as long as it isn’t in a confrontational way.
Overall, try to remember that even if you think the trigger is stupid or illogical, in the mind of someone with Generalized Anxiety; it is incredibly real, and our reactions valid. Every single person with GAD is different – proceed with love and as much understanding as you can muster.