3 ways to help someone with social anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are separate mental health disorders, but research shows a strong relationship between social anxiety disorder and depressive disorders. The diagnostic criteria for social anxiety covers 10 points. The first point is a noticed fear or anxiety about social situations (one or more) in which you feel exposed to scrutiny by others. The following nine points describe the fear. The social situation, which you avoid or endure must always give rise to fear, in particular a fear of judgement. Your persistent fear is out of proportion to the threat, causes significant distress and cannot be the effect of something else such as another illness or substance abuse.
“Depression” is not a disorder, rather a group of disorders known as depressive disorders with a common feature of sad, empty or irritable moods. Accompanied by somatic and cognitive changes that significantly affect your ability to function.
When you feel this way, how long you have felt this way and the assumed cause is what determines the specific disorder. When someone withdraws from social contact it is important to distinguish between social anxiety and depression. Social anxiety is a withdrawal because of fear of judgement and depression is a withdrawal because of a lack of fun.
How to help someone with social anxiety and depression
As social creatures, anxiety that prevents socialisation might lead to feelings of depression. When you avoid social situations, it is harder to make friends and maintain the friendships that you already have. If you want to help your friend who is feeling depressed, offer to visit them at home rather than expecting them to join you outside with other people.
If you wish to progress your support helping someone with social anxiety to feel more relaxed outside the home or in the company of others, start slowly. Suggest a walk somewhere quiet with few people, next time try somewhere a little busier.
Continue with slow progression, perhaps inviting another friend to join you. If you want to help someone it is important to maintain contact, for some people helping with social anxiety takes a lot of energy, remember to care for yourself too. Time with a therapist to offload and get support will stop you needing this from your friends, so the chain breaks and you can have fun time too.
How to help someone with social anxiety disorder
1. Listen and hear
If you're wondering how to help someone with social anxiety, a good first step is to listen rather than fix. As much as you may wish to, fixing social anxiety is not always possible. It is ok to speak the truth rather than enable, for example by reflecting their feelings, “I hear you feel really worried right now and I understand why” and then speak rationally, “it is your anxiety, it isn’t real”.
Encourage your friend to describe and write down their feelings whilst letting them know that showing emotion is normal. Do not be afraid of tears, from childhood we hear the words “don’t cry”. Therefore, as adults we often feel guilty and apologise for doing so. If you notice your friend trying to stop themselves from showing emotion or apologising for crying, let them know that it is ok to cry and give them space to do so.
2. Bring them into the moment
Anxious thoughts revolve around the ‘what ifs’, generally focusing on the future or past. Use games or grounding techniques to bring your friend back into the present moment. Point out a nice sight or the sounds of the birds singing for example. If you can incorporate all the senses into a game, it will help to realign their mind and body with the present moment.
Some games will work as a distraction so that the anxious thoughts stop swirling, in particular games that take a lot of thought such as memory games.
3. Show love through laughter
It is difficult to continually be fun if you do not always feel that way yourself. However, by maintaining boundaries, ensuring that you have support yourself, and relaxing with other friends you will hopefully have the energy to brighten your friend’s day with laughter. When we laugh, we cannot feel anxious, sad or angry. Plus, with true abdominal laughter we get a release of endorphins, which help us to feel good and even reduce the feelings of pain. If you struggle to make your friend laugh, find some movies or videos that will!
It is not easy to help someone that has mental health problems, ensure they receive support from a professional at the same time and remember to be kind to yourself.
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