Counselling

How to Support Clients Through Anxiety

As therapists, working with people who struggle with anxiety is very common. It might be the core reason the person is seeking support, or maybe we discover the anxiety as we work alongside them.

It’s worth pointing out that anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes, strengths, power, and control. Anxiety can lay low and rear its head on occasion, or maybe some people you support claim they have “high-functioning anxiety” (this is not a clinical term or diagnosis).

 

Anxiety tells us to escape and avoid.

Although the flight response makes sense if we’re actually in danger, it usually isn’t helpful in our daily lives. Anxiety can be attributed to past trauma or caused by a current situation that is at its peek.

Fear and anxiety can prevent us from doing something that would enhance our lives.

 

Learn how to spot anxiety in your clients.

Fear and anxiety can prevent us from doing something that would enhance our lives. If your client isn’t in a survival situation but is afraid of doing something that’s important to them or would bring them closer to the life they want to live, they may be struggling with anxiety.

Maybe they want to learn to dance or join an art class having never picked up a paint brush. Or they might want to go to a party and challenge themselves to talk to someone new. Whatever it may be, if they’re afraid to do it, it could be anxiety that’s holding them back.

 

Let them know it’s okay to not have all the answers.

When things are difficult to understand or we don’t know what the outcome of a situation will be, our brains tend to take a shortcut and suggest something before we know any better. That is judgement. Encourage your client not to settle with those judgements and instead focus on trying to understand their anxiety.

A low level of anxiety can push us to perform, prepare, and achieve our goals. But it becomes an issue when it starts impacting our daily lives and interrupts our interactions.

Helping your client get a bird’s eye view on the context of their anxiety is the best way to be a support.

 

The best help is always in the direction of recovery.

Offer support and resources along with strategies and tools that will be helpful for what’s causing your client’s anxiety. For example, if they find social situations difficult and you suggest they avoid them altogether, the anxiety is likely to get worse. But if you help them develop a plan to go with a friend who can support them while they challenge their fears, it will help them move forward.

Helping your client get a bird’s eye view on the context of their anxiety is the best way to be a support. It will help them make the best choices about how to improve things.

  Encourage your client to take baby steps at first – the most difficult yet important thing is that they start!

 

Here are some tips to help them do this:
  • Remember that some anxiety is normal, but chronic stress leads to an array of long-term health problems. Take anxiety as seriously as any other health issue.
  • Not all stress can be chosen – sometimes life just throws it our way. But the stress response is a short-term tool. It works best when we give the body and mind time for deep rest and replenishment. Encourage your client to consider whether some of their behaviours are contributing to their anxiety by asking these questions:
    • “Are you making time for rest?”
    • “Are you filling free moments with more stress, like checking your emails while eating your dinner?”
  • Also help them figure out which stressors in their life can’t be controlled and which ones they can change. For example, they may not allow enough time for rest and replenishment because they have taken too much on. Look at this tendency with curiosity and help them discern which things they can stop doing to allow more time for rest. Ask:
    • “What do you think that’s about?”
    • “What pressures are you under from others? Which ones are from yourself?”
    • “Is this lifestyle in any way wrapped up in your sense of self-worth and identity?”

Encourage your client to take baby steps at first – the most difficult yet important thing is that they start! Remind them they can start today, and again tomorrow, and the next day. Let them know to keep working toward achievable goals, however small, and don’t stop until it becomes part of their comfort zone.


For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.

Author

Shelly Qualtieri

MA, RSW – Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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