15 Realistic Ways To Support A Loved One With Depression Or Anxiety (Because Ignoring It Isn't An Option)

Depression and anxiety are two difficult mental illnesses that can cause people to feel and behave unlike themselves. These mood disorders can create barriers between the person suffering from them and the world around them. What makes it so insidious is that the barrier is invisible to the outside world. There's no "physical ailment" present that a loved one can see with the naked eye, unlike a broken arm or a runny, red nose. Instead, these illnesses take over one's mental wellness with symptoms that can appear extreme and distressing. Signs someone may be suffering from depression range from immense sadness and fatigue to sudden outbursts of extreme irritation.


According to Mayo Clinic, other telltale symptoms of depression include suicidal thoughts, abnormal sleep patterns, and not engaging in hobbies or normal tasks that one used to enjoy. There are various forms of depression, and severe depression can make one angry, while at the same time sad, empty, or numb. It's an enemy within the mind that must be addressed.

Anxiety is another difficult illness that can present in myriad fashions. According to Psych Central, there are quite a number of anxiety disorders. For our purposes, we will address Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Symptoms include feelings of extreme discomfort within your surroundings, panic, weakness within the body, racing thoughts, a pounding heart (which is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack), confusion, and incessant worrying. Imagine the fear you may feel when waiting for a health diagnosis — people with anxiety disorders often feel this kind of heightened concern all the time.


Be present for your loved one

The most important thing you can do for someone you love who's suffering is to simply be there for them. Even if you have no clue what to do, just being present makes all the difference in the world and may just save them from destructive thoughts or life-ending ideations. Furthermore, being there with someone who is suffering simply proves that you care. Distraction can be a lifesaver for a depressive. Quite literally.


Mayo Clinic notes that it's important to be mindful of comments that suggest someone may be suicidal. If someone is suicidal, encourage them to seek treatment immediately. But keep in mind that depression can make a person think a lot about death and what the "point" of life is. By being present for someone who is going through depression, you're offering a hand to be held. Sometimes just having someone there is all it takes.

Don't underestimate the power of being a good listener

We all want to have a friend who can listen, whether we're suffering from depression or not, as being a good listener is essential to feeling connected and understood. Even Intrepid Mental Health reports that people who are experiencing depression often feel isolated, misunderstood, and alone. Asking what's wrong and allowing your friend to simply be themself and talk it out is healing.


One thing that makes depression so difficult is the feeling that no one but you is feeling this way, akin to an island within a wide, deep ocean of complex emotions and concerns. If you can just sit with someone and give them your ear, you'll be doing so much. Sometimes, recalling funny stories you've shared with a depressed friend is helpful. So is keeping them up-to-date on what's happening in the world. Trying to distract them is always a novel idea. But just being a friend is sometimes all you can do.

Encourage them to seek treatment

This one can be challenging. There are times when the depressed person will want to "figure it out" on their own. It's common for a person to want to find a way to heal themselves, as signs of strength and perseverance. It's human! The problem with this is, when it comes to someone who is clinically depressed, it's extremely challenging to fix on your own.


Often, medicine and therapy are needed to make a dent in a depressed person's thought processes, and a mental wellness facility can be just the ticket if outpatient care isn't cutting it. Life is hard across the board, but it can seem insurmountable for someone experiencing extreme depression. As a supporter of someone suffering, it can be difficult to understand what exactly they're experiencing and whether it's sadness or a deeper mental health issue. That being said, it's important to observe their state of mind.

Everyday Health revealed that April Thames, Ph.D., the professor-in-residence at the UCLA Brain Research Institute in Los Angeles, said, "A person feeling down usually has hope that things will change for the better. The person with depression feels that their situation is hopeless and will not change."


Help with daily activities and chores

You know when you have a difficult flu or horrible cold and feel just weak and feverish? Could you earnestly clean the house at such a time, or be expected to prepare a decent meal? Don't you just want to lay in bed and rest? This is similar to how it feels to be in a depressed state. It becomes difficult to do anything, let alone get up and take on common household chores.


Everything becomes arduous and simply too much for the depressed person. For example, going to the supermarket for a depressed person is akin to asking a person with a broken leg to run down the street. According to Intrepid Mental Health, offering to pick things up for the depressed person from the store while you're shopping is a great help. Just imagine how hard it is to hop around on crutches. This is exactly how difficult it is for someone who is depressed to make it to the store.

Recognize this is an illness; not just laziness

There can be a temptation to see this condition as laziness. Unfortunately, some only see a depressed person as an unmotivated individual who has just decided to sit inside a dark room and seemingly do nothing but stare at the wall. This is not the case. Yes, indeed there are lazy people; Depressed people are not part of that crowd.


"Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch it where it hurts. It's always here, though," said Jeffrey Eugenides to Woman's Day. Does this sound like laziness? No. This is a relentless illness, hence the need for treatment. Sometimes it's something that will have to be treated for a lifetime. While this can sound disconcerting, it's a reality many people deal with for their entire life. It takes incredible perseverance to manage depression, as well as strength and motivation just to keep going. If you see a depressed person sitting in a dark room doing nothing, it's probably because they're exhausted from just existing.

"It is very hard to explain to people who have never known serious depression or anxiety the sheer continuous intensity of it. There is no off switch," said author Matt Haig of "Reasons To Stay Alive," as quoted in Woman's Day.


Clean their home for them, seriously

Oh boy. This one is hard. Who wants to clean their own home, let alone that of someone who isn't feeling like themself? Do it anyway. Just like your friend with a broken arm, doing the dishes can be extremely arduous. Do their dishes. There may be a lot of them piled up, but do them anyway. And take out their trash. It may be overflowing, but know that you're lightening a loved one's load.


A dirty and unorganized home can make any of us feel discombobulated, but when you're depressed, all it does is add another layer to possible self-condemnation. It's likely the depressed person is already beating themself up for not keeping their home tidy, but the energy it requires can literally overwhelm them, and cleaning often cannot be accomplished without help.

You have no idea how helpful doing these kinds of things can be for someone struggling just to get out of bed. "The tough times, the days when you're just a ball on the floor — they'll pass. You're playing the long game, and life is totally worth it," revealed Sarah Silverman as quoted in Good Housekeeping.

Make them a healthy meal or bring them food

When you're sick with anxiety or depression, you sometimes cannot even think about eating, let alone cooking a healthy meal for yourself. So, do what you can and offer to cook for your loved one who's suffering. It may seem downright ridiculous that you "need" to cook for someone fully capable and grown up. But, it's not. For a person suffering from anxiety, mere minutes may seem like hours of managing symptoms of pure panic, distress, or extreme discomfort.


Intrepid Mental Health reports that people with anxiety often enter fight or flight mode, which is a trauma response. Just imagine having your heart racing for hours on end — exhausting, right? Often, the person with anxiety is trying to just make it through the day, and this takes remarkable effort. But daily life tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, are often the first to go out the door. Namely, taking care of oneself becomes a real struggle.

Encourage them to get some exercise

Getting an anxious friend to exercise or move their body in some fashion is a fantastic way to help alleviate symptoms. Truly, there isn't much that fresh air and good company can't remedy at least a little bit. Sometimes, people with anxiety feel like they're stuck in their minds and anxious bodies. So, changing the scenery and keeping them active can be greatly beneficial.


Psych Central reports that anything from a quick walk to a yoga class can be helpful. However, it may not be helpful to exercise with too high an intensity. Why? Well, our hearts pound more rapidly when doing high-impact exercises and we sweat, and both of these things can mimic the symptoms of an actual panic attack. So, try to keep the exercise somewhat mellow; A light jog, easy walk, or hike should do the trick.

Explore their 'what if' fears with them

With anxiety comes an unfortunate cycle of intense or obsessive thinking patterns. This means the affected person may be engaging in what is known as "what if" thinking. This is also known as catastrophizing. Basically, this is obsessively worrying about the outcome of a situation. It's a classic anxiety symptom and also quite common in people who don't even suffer from anxiety. We're all human and tend to wonder about the "what ifs" in life, but it's one thing to worry and think about something and quite another to obsess and ruminate about something without ceasing.


How to help? Firstly, offer to assist them in remembering times when they've worried excessively about things in their past. "From there, focus on getting them to reflect on how they managed to get through [the bout of catastrophizing] back then — because they did get through it," revealed psychologist Danielle Forshee, PsyD to Wondermind. The hope is that they'll recognize that they're most likely catastrophizing the situation, and realize they're not facing as extreme a situation as it may feel. We can only show support as well as we are able to, and hope for the best.

Don't become Miss Positivity

There can't be anything more annoying than trusting someone with your pain and having them disregard or minimize it. If you can't deal with someone else's issues, that's okay. But, in this case, it's best you remove yourself from the situation. When a person is struggling, they don't need to hear some 'Pollyanna' viewpoint on life which will only serve to shine a strobe light on this person's supposed failures. When you don't have anxiety, when thoughts aren't racing through your mind and your heart isn't pounding, it's hard to imagine what your counterpart is experiencing.


If you can't relate to how you're friend is feeling, show some compassion. They're going through a certain kind of hell that you'll be glad to never visit. Wondermind reported that it's best to practice empathy, sympathy, and most of all, understanding. Compassion will take you far in life, and it's important to remain positive while not tossing out a load of toxic positivity to the person who is struggling. We don't want to be "so positive" about "how great life is" that we leave our loved one feeling misunderstood and isolated. Life may feel like a playground for you, and that's wonderful. But remember there's a see-saw in that park, and the other side contains people who are sitting around with a great need for understanding.


Distract them from their difficult thoughts

Anxiety can create a boatload of difficult, persistent thoughts. The illness can make someone's thoughts race within their mind as though multiple horses were running around on a track. "Don't ignore their feelings no matter how much you don't get it. Let your loved one know that it's okay to feel however they feel. Validate them and their emotions. Being there means being there in a nonjudgmental way," explained Benjamin F. Miller, PsyD, a primary care psychologist and an adjunct professor of psychiatry, public mental health, and population sciences at California's Stanford University School of Medicine.


Perhaps try grounding exercises with them. This is when you focus on what's present around you. The University of Toledo suggests naming five things that are visible to the eye (I see a blue car driving up the road), four things that are tactile (I feel my clothes hitting against my arm), three things that you can hear (I hear the dog barking), two things you can observe through smell (I can smell the scent of flowers in the air), and one positive thing about yourself (I'm a good listener). These observations can distract the person away from their incessant thoughts, allowing them to calm down.

Don't minimize their pain

Imagine you had a broken arm with a visible cast, but everyone around you insisted that your arm was fine. This is what it feels like to have anxiety inside your head, but have everyone acting as though it didn't exist. It's already exhausting to have a condition, and having to "prove" it can drive you to the end of your rope. The best thing to do is be present for someone and hear them out. Always remember that just because you can't see something, it doesn't mean it isn't there.


"Anxiety is a real illness that, like many illnesses, can be treated. If we send signals that anxiety isn't real or is not something that should be taken seriously, we run the risk of further stigmatizing the person, and that could lead them to avoid seeking care," explained Benjamin F. Miller.

Simply laugh!

Sometimes we just need to laugh! This can release feel-good endorphins and help diffuse a serious situation. Laughter often comes from deep within us, and can definitely be beneficial to our health and state of mind. "Just a moment of laughter can allow us to think more clearly and creatively and strengthen a sense of connection with others," reported Natalie Christine Dattilo, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, to Everyday Health.


Do you have any friends who know of good comedies or comics? Ask them for suggestions of great shows out there that bring out the laughs. Or, scroll through social media and focus on things that only bring out the giggles. Did you know there's even a whole association geared toward laughter and its benefits? Yes! It's called the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH). The "humor professionals" in this association will surely help you find ways to create giggles in your circle. As the saying goes, "laughter is the best medicine."

Practice mindfulness

Perhaps one of the key ingredients for fighting both depression and anxiety is practicing mindfulness meditations. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is the art of observing our thoughts and emotions. To observe them means you are NOT doing anything about them (such as beginning to get frantic), but rather you are watching them as they arise. It's like observing the waves of an ocean as they roll in and out without jumping into the water. Mindfulness also means you're not judging the thoughts you're having. 


Again, you're observing them without acting on them or judging yourself. This is a practice that may take a while to master, but it has taken off in popularity and has proven to be greatly beneficial. "Meditation is a cognitive technique that improves a person's mind, body, and soul. Psychological aspects, like insight, attention, reflection, and self-regulation are deepened," revealed Dr. Deborah Serani, professor at Adelphi University in New York to Psych Central.

Be sure to take care of yourself too

"As caregivers, we take pride in caring for others and feel a sense of honor or privilege in doing so," said Amy Gruber, PsyD, a PeaceHealth licensed clinical psychologist. "How remarkable would it be if we could redirect that same love and compassion that we dole out to others toward ourselves?" as stated in Peace Health.


According to Peace Health, you should never compromise your own self-care; This means being able to take care of your own important needs. Try to think about whether you have a group around you that would help lighten the load if you asked. Are there any other friends or family who can help the one suffering from mental illness? If not, sometimes, as bad as it may make you feel, you may have to simply say no. You cannot adequately care for someone else if you, yourself, are not taking care of your own needs. It is a principle we all have to acknowledge and take seriously — you can't pour from an empty cup.