Learning to manage anxiety

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Five ways to help a family member who is anxious

By Carlin Burhman

"There is a live shooter here in Hesston!" That's how my therapy session started on the evening of Feb. 25, 2016. It was a day of tragedy for Hesston, Kan., and the surrounding areas. Excel Industries experienced a mass shooting with four people killed, 14 injured and many others negatively affected. The days that followed were filled with remembering, recovery and moving forward. They were, and some continue to be, days filled with anxiety.

None of us will escape this life without being directly or indirectly affected by situations that cause anxiety. The avoidance, fear, flashbacks, dreams and other symptoms can be difficult to manage.

For some these symptoms seem to fade, while for others they tend to persist or appear intermittently. When anxiety shows up, it can be difficult to know how to manage it. Seeing our family members struggle with high anxiety levels can leave us paralyzed and bring us to push them further than they feel they can manage or to damage relationships.

What can I do to help my family member who is struggling with anxiety?

1. Prepare for anxiety before it shows up by helping your family feel safe to one another. Create intentional time together for fun and pay attention to both negative and positive emotions. Let family members know it is ok to feel their emotions and share times when you've felt similar. Incorporate God as Comforter, Healer and Counselor into your family conversations and activities. Once we establish a safe place, family members have a place they can trust to be supportive.

2. Chase the why. Sometimes it is easy to find the origin of anxiety, but it can be challenging. Knowing why your family member is anxious helps them begin to manage their anxiety and helps family members cultivate compassion.

3. Visit your primary care physician. There can be biological reasons for anxiety, and we don’t want to ignore them.

4. Equip the person who is anxious. Here are a few ideas:

    *    Rehearse an event, a bus ride for example, several times before it happens. Even just imagining getting on the bus with all the details of the ride will help the brain to be prepared for it when the time comes. You can also have children draw, paint or create a picture of the event going well.

    *    Think about the supportive people (you can include God, parents, friends and even pets) that person has and have them imagine that those people are all helping them do whatever they get anxious about.

    *    Learn and practice "diaphragmatic breathing." It can help to calm your body in stressful moments and gets your body and brain the oxygen it needs to help with healthy living.

    *    As a family, memorize verses or prayers that are helpful for you in anxious situations.  Make them part of your daily prayers together.

    *    Keep a family journal (you can use pictures, stories and photographs) of all of the times family members succeeded in conquering anxiety and review it when someone in the family is preparing to face something they are anxious about.

5. If you try the above and feel that you need more direction or help, visit with a therapist. There are several effective methods of treatment for anxiety. Maybe an outside perspective and some expertise in the area will be helpful in leading your family toward a healthier life.

Carlin Buhrman is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist from Hesston, Kan. She owns Central Kansas Counseling, a private practice in Hesston, and also works parttime as a therapist at EMPAC, an employee assistance program in Wichita, Kan. She and her family attend First MB Church in Wichita.  

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This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at editor@usmb.org.

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