Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Supporting someone with anxiety. Misconceptions: Unravelling anxiety, Episode 9

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Misconceptions: Unravelling Anxiety | Online series

It can be hard to know how to react when someone tells you they have anxiety.

Social media personality Krystine Nation and TikTok star Leighton Clark (AKA Uncle Tics) know what not to say.

“New Zealand has such a culture of ‘harden up, get over it, your problems aren’t even that bad’,” Nation says. “That’s one thing I had a family member say to me – ‘what have you got to be anxious about? Your life is good!’ And I know my life is perfect. But that doesn’t change the way your brain is wired – it just does not work like that.”

Clarke recounts some unhelpful advice that he’s received: “Just do it better bro, you’ll be alright, don’t be anxious.”

Clinical Psychologist Dr Eve Hermansson-Webb says it takes a lot of courage for people to tell others they have anxiety, and it’s important to react in a way that makes them feel validated.

“Sometimes the temptation might be to reassure them, and say ‘oh that doesn’t sound that bad’, but that sort of response actually isn’t helpful – it just tells the person that you’re not someone who can sit with them in their distress, and that you can’t handle their anxiety,” she says.

“Better things to say if a person discloses to you that they struggle with anxiety would be ‘that sounds really tough, I’m sorry I didn’t know you were struggling with that, tell me more about it, what can I do to help’. It’s really important to ask questions.”

Counsellor Shirleen Prasad says sometimes we feel as though we need to have all the answers, when often people just want to feel heard.

“Just being present and listening without judgement is so powerful,” she says.

Anxiety New Zealand Trust National Manager Goldie Hamilton says it’s a privilege when someone trusts you enough to open up about their anxiety.

“That means we need to be able to give them the time and listen to what they’re saying, and be really compassionate and try and understand them and where they’re coming from,” she says.

But if you are the main support person for someone with anxiety, you also need to look after your own wellbeing.

“It’s really important if someone’s coming to you and asking for help, that you also consider your needs,” says Hamilton. “It’s fantastic that you want to help the other person, but you might also find that you need some support through that.”

Support people say that at times they can feel helpless and overwhelmed.

If you are supporting someone with a mental health disorder, you may find yourself carrying a heavy load. It may help to carve out some regular time for yourself to get out into nature or do an activity you enjoy.

Support people are also advised to share the load by reaching out to whānau, friends, and mental health services such as those listed below. These services will be able to provide tips for supporting your loved one while also looking after yourself.

Unravelling Anxiety follows the first Misconceptions series by Digital Alchemist, The Truth About Miscarriage.

Where to get help
If you think you may be experiencing anxiety, you can ask your GP or a counsellor for advice. You can also reach out to the following organisations:

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