How To Help A Loved One Struggling With Anxiety & Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

All of us experience stress, worry, and fear from time to time. However, people struggling with anxiety and OCD are experiencing these stressors, worries, and fears excessively, more frequently, and they begin to negatively affect their daily life.

Often times this excessive worry and anxiety appear to be irrational and these feelings are invalidated by the people they seek support from. However, these feelings are very real and rational to our loved ones, and it’s important we support them. Below are ways you can help and support a loved one struggling with anxiety and OCD.

With anxiety and OCD, they not only experience negative feelings but they also engage in unhealthy behaviors that enable the anxiety to continue and overtime makes the anxiety and OCD stronger. This includes seeking reassurance to ease the anxiety and distressing feelings, questioning themselves and their decisions, avoiding people, places, and things that provide intense and distressing feelings, irritability, and engaging in compulsive and impulsive behaviors to ease the anxiety and fears temporarily.

Below are tips on how to support a loved one struggling with anxiety and OCD:

What To Say and Not To Say

When we struggle to understand what someone is going through it can be hard to find the right words to help. However, in our attempt to try sometimes we say the wrong thing. Below is a list of things to say and not to say to loved one struggling with anxiety and OCD in order to provide them with the support they need.

Things To Say

A few things you can say to let a loved one know you support and sympathize with them are:

“Do you want me to listen to you?”

“Can I do anything to help?”

“Can we do something to distract you?”

“Do you want me to stay here in your feelings with you?”

“You’re not alone, I am here for you.”

Things NOT To Say

Below are a few things that can invalidate a loved ones anxious feelings and sometimes intensify the emotion as they won’t feel understood or supported:

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

“Other people have it worse.”

“You need to relax.”

“Everyone gets anxious sometimes.”

“That’s irrational.”

Validate, Affirm, and Encourage
It is extremely important to validate the feelings of our loved ones. With anxiety and OCD, a lot of the fears, worries, and anxiety may be hard to sympathize or empathize with as they seem irrational. However, it’s important to remember that people’s feelings are always valid, whether you agree or disagree with them. When in doubt, validate their feelings and affirm or reinforce them for reacting appropriately to the anxiety and/or not engaging in compulsive behavior when they do.

Don’t Avoid
We often want to go out of our way to help our loved ones going through a difficult time. However, manipulating the environment in order for them to avoid their anxious triggers is more harmful than helpful. It’s important to allow them to expose themself to triggers and face the fear and sit with the anxious feelings. If we allow them to avoid the trigger, we intensify the anxiety and fear, making it harder for them to learn to manage their anxiety and OCD and intensifying it over time. You can help a loved one face anxiety and OCD by being with them when they face anxiety and fears.

Don’t offer Reassurance
Reassurance will cancel out the hard work they are making to face their anxiety and fears. Reassurance seeking is a compulsion and temporarily makes them feel better and in the long-term intensifies their anxiety and OCD. Supporting them and encouraging them to continue to face their fear and sit with the anxious feelings is different than reassuring them.