Stress Anxiety Depression - Help family member under stress

It is true that not everyone is adept at coping with stress and anxiety. And you might have a family member or friend who needs help in dealing with constant stress. To support a loved one, it is advisable to become aware of the root causes of stress.

I had often seen my sister struggle with body aches, migraine, fatigue and nervous breakdowns while growing up. But just like me, everyone is the family was clueless as to what caused these physical symptoms in the first place. She seemed healthy otherwise. It was much later that a doctor identified her real problem as ‘stress’.

Stress Anxiety Depression - Help family member under stress

What is Stress?

It took me a while to understand that in every challenging situation that my sister faced, her body’s automated response was stress. After meeting a clinical psychiatrist and reading up on the subject, I learned that while small amounts of stress can be helpful in handling certain unfavorable situations, excessive stress experienced over an extended time frame is not healthy for anyone.

A counselor helped my sister identify some of the common reasons why she felt so stressed regularly:

  • Relationship problems related to family, partner, colleagues and/or friends
  • Financial issues (underpaying job, shortage of savings, loan obligations, increasing expenses etc.)
  • Dealing with deadlines at work
  • Harbouring unrealistic expectations or setting very high standards for herself and/or others

Helping a loved one under stress

Although you may think that offering nice meals, suggesting prayers or providing multiple other practical solutions is the best way to help a distressed family member, this might actually go against the real intention.

We are grateful to our counsellor for guiding us with regards to how we could help my sister who was dealing with persistent and extreme stress.

Listen first, advise later

According to professionals in the field of therapy, the first and most important step towards helping a stressed family member is to ‘listen’ to them. All other solutions will follow this all-important first step. Once your loved one feels understood, they will better absorb the other ‘practical’ suggestions. You need to understand that a stressed person might often feel like a madman. Such people may even feel abnormal and lack healthy self-esteem simply because they are unable to deal with any kind of stressful situation. Hence, more than anything else, they are looking for empathy and compassion.

Once you’ve entered the trust circle of the stressed family member, you could suggest small solutions such as meditation, exercise, engaging with nature, reaching out for help and so on. In fact, I joined my sister in some daily activities like taking a walk or reading a book together. This helped strengthen our connection.

Suggest seeking professional help

In most cases, a stressed family member will be reluctant to seek professional help and support such as therapy or counselling. This was the case with my sister too. But we took things slowly and began with small steps such as accompanying her to a doctor visit or therapy session. I eventually also helped my sister keep a record of therapy and medication. It was my way of showing support for her effort.

Encourage meeting/connecting with close friends and family

A stressed family member might benefit from meeting some close friends and family members too. Feeling supported helps deal with stress and challenging situations better. But it is best to allow them to take the lead and decide who they would like to interact with and the amount of contact they are comfortable maintaining.

As a family member and caretaker of someone dealing with persistent stress, it is crucial to learn about this medical condition and its effects. This will give you a clearer idea of the problems your loved one is confronted with. And more awareness will help you deal better with the situation.

Also, living or interacting intimately with a stressed family member might cause you to feel stressed too. In case this happens, avoid pushing too hard and take a small break to care for yourself. When you’re relaxed and calm, you can help the other more easily.