5 Ways To Care For Someone With Depression Or Anxiety (Whilst Also Caring For Yourself)

From simple facts to hard truths.

So often, we neglect to talk about how to care for a depressed or anxious person when at your wits end. How do you both show up for that person, whilst also showing up for yourself?

Sometimes caring for someone who is struggling with their mental health can be a drag. It’s not that you don’t care, or that you’re ‘bored’ of their behaviour. It is frustration, at the constancy or intensity. Perhaps you don’t know what to do or say anymore. So you show your feelings in unhelpful ways. In silence or worse, anger.

Put simply, you start to see them as their symptoms. Their negative behaviour becomes their main characteristics. And the rift opens.

As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety for years, I can see both sides. No one asks for depression or anxiety to come calling. No one dreams to grow up and see life as hopeless, pointless, or fearful. Like they have no place in it, no reason to expect the best, and no belief in their abilities. Nobody hopes that every day they’ll wake, and simply wish to go back to bed and forget their existence.

When it starts, it could be a legitimate issue that makes you stumble. Some kind of grief, or relationships issue. Something at home or at work. It’s a seed that grows, a weed without water. Some people ignore it, and don’t speak to anyone about it. Others tell everyone they can. Some will talk with a chosen few, or healthcare professional. Some wont even notice until it has taken root.

Sadly, we each of us know someone in our lives who suffers from depression or anxiety. We know the fundamentals. Not talking about it is detrimental, apt to make you feel alone. Telling everyone about it, however, is another poor route. One must have boundaries, and there is danger in telling the wrong people and feeling dismissed or belittled.

We know that benefits of a support network. We encourage our loved ones to seek professional help if necessary.

But what we don’t seem to talk about is coping with depression and anxiety from the other side. When you are caring for someone long-term. When you have shown all the support you can muster, and the fatigue has set in.

How do you practice self-care whilst also giving care?

If left unchecked, the relationship between someone with mental health issues and the caregiver can sour. And it feels awful on both sides. As the depressed or anxious person, you feel your issues have destroyed something else in your life, dismantling it piece by piece. When someone you love and trust then acts tired or frustrated by you, it kills you inside. You try to be better, so that you don’t have to do this to other people. Perhaps you clam up and go it alone for a while. Stop talking and make excuses like “others have it worse” ask; “why am I like this?” or think “they don’t want to hear about this”. You hope that ignoring it will make it go away.

But it doesn’t go away.

From the other side, you might feel guilt alongside fatigue. You might try to help while running on empty. This can lead to anything from angry or frustrated altercations, to absence or silence. You don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to handle the situation. You don’t feel qualified.When you are in this dance, there are some really useful tips to abide by. Tips that can help pave the way for a better relationship for both of you. Some require you working together, others require you to work for yourself. But all of them will help to create greater clarity and honesty.

How do you practice self-care whilst also giving care?

Organise A Support Circle

Often, when facing difficulty with mental health, there are at least a couple of people you can turn to. If you are one of a group, small or large, try coming up with a plan of action together. This way if your friend or family member comes to you, and you don’t have the time or energy to offer support, you can ask someone else to step in. It may not always be possible, and it might seem a little extreme, but having this network can be a lifeline to all of you. The person seeking support will no doubt feel nurtured for it. Even if they say (and they will) that they feel bad for having to “bother you all” with it.

I understand that there are certain situations where you will be the only person that they feel they can talk to. Whilst it can feel stressful, ensure you have your own lifeline that you can call on when you are feeling depleted. You don’t need to divulge any details about the person you are caring for. But know it is ok to have support of your own for when you need it.

If You Feel Angry, Step Away & Breathe

You may not understand what they are going through. You might even feel like they are bringing it on themselves sometimes. But in reality, none of these thoughts help you or them to get past the negative emotions. If you are feeling like you might blow up at them, step away. Go to the bathroom, splash your face with water or make a cup of tea. Take a moment to empathise with their position.

If you were feeling this way, what kind of support would work for you? What has helped them in the past? Can you get away with giving them some physical reassurance, perhaps a long well intentioned hug? Sustained contact such as hugs or soothing strokes is proven to release oxytocin, which can alleviate negative moods, depression and anxiety.

If you don’t think you can curb your anger, or you don’t have the energy to give, consider calling your circle. Bringing in backup can help to alleviate your stress and can also generate a sense of bonding.

Please always remember that nobody wants to feel this way. Even if it seems like they aren’t helping themselves. Most likely they’re feeling as exhausted by the relentless bleakness or anxiety they feel.

If They Say Or Do Something You Don’t Like, Be Kind

Depression and anxiety triggers your stress responses. And everyone has felt how negatively stress effects clear thinking. Emotional blindness, brain fog, lack of mental clarity, all of this is a response to the body and mind feeling stress. While frustration in depression and anxiety can be expressed in ways that might negatively affect you, try not to take it personally. The sufferer is trying to come to terms with some pretty powerful monsters that have taken route in their psyche.

Again, take a moment to breathe. Make a tea or drink a glass of water. Ask them to clarify on sticking points. Try to query, rather than accuse. Throwing out accusations and anger will leave you both feeling worse.

Whatever the reason for their words or actions, it comes from pain and most likely fear. It doesn’t come from a will to be violent or vicious toward you. Please, muster all the empathy you have and, if you can, let it go. Or talk to them about it when they have calmed down. You don’t deserve to have your feelings hurt. But they have something inside of them that is hurting their feelings all the damned time.

Consider Seeking Counselling Yourself

If I am honest, everyone could use a little bit of counselling, or therapy. It helps to unravel the inner workings of your daily life. To figure out where things are getting stale, and changes can be made. Change is inevitable. It only becomes a problem when we fail to see that as a given.

If you become unfeasibly angry or aggressive in the face of a loved ones pain or torment, question why this is your default setting. Perhaps you want to show support, but you find it hard seeing them in pain, so you lash out. This happens. It is a sad fact of life that sometimes fear and anger cut a fine line.

This is why we need to give depressed or anxious people the benefit of the doubt when anger bubbles. And why as the caregiver, you often need that too.

Either way, counselling is always helpful. It becomes a mirror, a way to understand if you are caring for yourself the best you can. It is also a tool to learn how to give others the best care and attention you can. Talking to someone impartial about conversations and altercations is a way of understanding your experiences. It helps you see alternative viewpoints, and discuss better ways forward.

I’ll say it again. Everybody can benefit from a bit of therapy. Plus, companies like BetterHelp do online video chat sessions that can really help. You can send your counsellor a message and they will respond within the day.

Tell Them You Cannot Support Them Any Longer

This is a tough one to talk about. Likely you grimaced when you read this. We all know it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Nevertheless, a few people in my life have walked away from me because I was ‘too much’. In reality it was because they could not, or did not want to, cope. I understand that people have to do what is right for them. But there is a right way and wrong way to do it.

In some instances, these people were not honest with me. They didn’t show care or compassion, they just left. This was painful, and honestly sometimes I felt I wouldn’t make it through, but I did. And I don’t hate or judge those people. Even if it took some time to feel that way.

The bottom line is this. If you aren’t willing or able to support someone, be honest. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but one that will make for less heartache all-round, in the end. This does not mean you will no longer be in each other’s lives. That is up to you both to decide later. Sometimes you need breathing space.

Our friends and family perform different roles in our lives. And these roles can change as we grow. Because (say it with me!) change is inevitable. If you can’t be in that person’s support network but you still love them very much, tell them. If you just plain don’t care, congratulations, you are an arsehole.

…That was a joke. But seriously, if you don’t care enough about someone to be there for them when they are at their worst, the relationship might well be over. Something to consider.

Either way, telling them will cause some heartache, perhaps for both of you. But in the long term they will benefit. Then they can spend their time and energy curating a strong support network.

Being honest in these matters isn’t always easy, but it is the best course of action.

Those who see you from all sides, and still love you, are true family.

A couple of other pieces of advice I’d like to give, as someone who has been on both sides of the fence.

Often when caring for someone with depression and anxiety, there is an impulse to pass off every behaviour as depression, anxiety or ‘mental illness’. This is the flip-side of being kind to someone who might lash out.

When they come to you with a genuine emotional response that you don’t like, it can be easy to put it down to mental health issues. But first try to consider if there is truth in what they say. Again, employ your empathy and talk through their feelings in a calm and curious manner.

It takes a lot for someone who is depressed or anxious to thoughtfully speak about his or her feelings or ask for something. Learn to separate the depressive episodes from the person telling you how they feel. Otherwise you are destined for misunderstandings.

Equally, if you are someone who deals with anxiety or depression, take my advice: don’t solely rely on your support network when you are down. Rely on them when you are feeling good, too.

Ring them just for a chat, ask them about their life. Make arrangements and show that you value the person, not just the support. Don’t be someone who only shows up when things are rough. This is apt to make a loved one feel used or drained. That is when frustration is likely to bubble to the surface.

You should never feel the need to hide your true emotions. But when you can, share your positive side with your loved ones too.

Those who see you from all sides, and still love you, are true family.

Having depression or anxiety is really hard. You aren’t qualified to deal with this, other than by its existence in your life. You don’t have all the answers.

Being the caregiver is really hard. You aren’t qualified to deal with this, other than by your existence in their life. No one is asking you to have all the answers.

If you can show mutual care, respect and honesty, you can begin to create a better understanding of each other. Observing these tips may just help you take care of someone else. And all while observing your own wellbeing.

Founder & Writer at Blognitive Therapy. Deeply committed to psychology, movement and mental health awareness. Fascinated by pretty much everything else.

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