Have you recently learned that a sister is battling anxiety? It can be a little overwhelming at first. You may want to help, but perhaps don’t know what is the most tactful, empathetic approach to take. Or maybe you don’t know what to say or what actions to take, or you worry that your interference will have a negative impact.
Anxiety is a difficult topic to understand, even for those who have personally dealt with it. Even before the added stress of the coronavirus pandemic, many people were coping with anxiety. The truth is, there is no quick-fix for a sister who is struggling — but you can help. Here’s how:
- Listen. We’re all guilty of listening with the intent of responding, thinking about what we will say next instead of focusing on what is being said. If you’re concerned that a sister is dealing with anxiety, ask if she needs to talk with someone and if she is comfortable speaking with you. The hardest part comes next. Just listen. Empathetic listening requires you to open your ears and fully absorb the information. This type of listening allows a person to work through their emotions and process them in their own way. Don’t try to offer advice just yet. Give her the opportunity to speak about her fears, her worries and her mental state, and let her know you’re there for her if she needs to vent.
- Be compassionate. Opening up about a personal struggle is a big step. It can be scary to speak about anxiety given the stigma that comes with mental health issues. A sister in need will feel much more comfortable honestly sharing her feelings if she believes she is in a judgment-free zone. Let her know that what she discloses will stay with you. Tell her you care about her. Communicate that a conversation between the two of you is a safe space. Ask her, “What can I do to help you?” Being sisterly goes far beyond happy birthday wishes and tagging friends in memes. Sisters open their hearts to each other and support one another without judgment.
- Be an advocate. Many individuals suffering from anxiety do not seek help because of the negative stigma associated with mental health. While our country has made remarkable strides in overcoming this stigma, many are still timid to accept help for fear of what others may think. Let her know that battling anxiety does not make her crazy, weak or irrational. Tell her that you believe in her. Trust that she wants to make strides to improve and encourage her to set a plan in place to do so. She may not be quite ready to take action yet, and that’s OK.
- Educate yourself. If a sister is battling anxiety, a better understanding of the condition will help both of you. Take the time to learn about mental health and work to overcome any preconceived ideas you may have. Here’s the truth: anxiety looks different for everyone. It’s unique to each individual. Do a little research about anxiety, how it can be triggered, how it manifests and methods of coping. Be sure you are referencing reliable sources.
- Reach out. This the most important tip. If a sister or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe she may harm herself, don’t try to handle the situation alone. Encourage her to call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. You can be sisterly and help a friend in need only up to a certain point, after which professionals need to take over.