Supporting Loved Ones Through Difficult Times
Lauren Callaghan, psychologist and author of a new guidebook for supporting someone you care about with anxiety or obsessional problems, shares the simple truth that many of us forget when it comes to caring for those we love.
by Lauren Callaghan
In the safety briefings on airplanes, we are told that we must put on our own lifejackets and breathing apparatus before putting them on those dependent on us. Obviously, this is because in order to ensure the safety of those more vulnerable, you need to be breathing and alive to do it. The same principle applies when you are looking after people with mental health problems – you need to be capable of providing the assistance they need.
This means you need to be as resilient, physically well, emotionally stable and mentally strong as you can be. Providing support or care for someone with an anxiety or obsessional problem can be demanding, and for those people caring for someone with a severe problem which renders them housebound, it’s even more taxing. To be supportive, compassionate, empathic, and potentially working as a co-therapist, it is important for you to remain positive and to look after yourself.
It is not selfish to prioritise your own wellbeing, it is imperative. Think about it this way: if there are two people in a relationship who are struggling with their mental health, with both people neglecting their physical health and both being socially isolated, the relationship will deteriorate and neither person will receive the support they need. In contrast, take one person who is suffering from poor mental health who is being supported by somebody else, who is able to sufficiently maintain their own wellbeing. This scenario is more likely to result in a positive outcome for both people, as the unwell individual will have support to build better mental health without endangering the wellbeing of the other.
Your own mental health
Be wary of your own mental health. If you are feeling down or anxious and it is causing you problems, it could be that you have depression or an anxiety problem of your own. It may have occurred in the context of caring for someone with an anxiety problem, or their anxiety problem may be a contributing factor combined with other reasons. It doesn’t really matter at this point why you are depressed or anxious; what is important is that you seek help for yourself. It can be easy to dismiss symptoms as tiredness or stress, but if you haven’t felt yourself for at least a few weeks, please see your doctor as you may need your own treatment and therapy. As a bonus, your loved one will see you getting help and it may encourage them to do the same.
Pointers for preserving wellbeing
The basics of positive wellbeing are eating well, exercising, good quality sleep, socialising and connecting with other people, and looking after your mental health. Mindfulness teaches people to be aware of their surroundings, focus on the present, and to not judge or get caught up in unhelpful thinking patterns. It is a surprisingly efficient tool to use for general wellbeing.
It can be easy to make excuses for not looking after yourself, but you can reflect on what areas of your wellbeing are suffering and make a plan to improve these by setting achievable and realistic goals. If your own mental health is deteriorating, you may need therapy or medication. You can be a role model for your loved one by acknowledging that you need help, and by accessing treatment. Further, charities, support groups and online forums can all provide advice and support for those caring for someone with an anxiety or obsessional problems, so you never have to feel like you’re going through anything alone.
Moving past guilt
Often, people do not look after themselves as well as they could because they are simply exhausted. They feel guilty investing in themselves when their loved one is suffering from a problem with anxiety, depression, or other ailment. This guilt, however, is misplaced. You are not doing this because you are selfish, or because you don’t care for your loved one – you are doing this precisely because you do care, and want things to be different. For things to change, you need to be in a healthier space to allow your loved one to be different.
It is also not selfish to enjoy parts of life, to do activities that give you enjoyment or a sense of achievement, even if your partner, family member or loved one is unable to so themselves. In fact, it is vital for mental wellbeing and can be a preventative measure against developing a debilitating illness of your own. Overall, it is of utmost importance to invest in your own wellbeing in order to be able to promote wellbeing to others and to provide truly loving support.
About the author: