Your question: Why does my brother have anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Anxiety is a universal phenomenon that in certain situations is useful for our survival. Anxiety allows us to react to threatening situations and helps us to make decisions that protect us from harm to our integrity.

However, when anxiety becomes chronic, i.e. too intense and recurrent, it causes problems in people’s lives. Anxiety generates annoying physical and emotional symptoms, and can also affect work and academic performance, interpersonal relationships and people’s self-esteem.

If you are reading this, you are probably worried about your brother, and you are wondering what the source of his anxiety is and what you can do to help him. In my opinion, this speaks very well of you, and shows me that you are a person who cares about your loved ones.

It is important, before helping others or ourselves, to find the source of the problems. Anxiety can be caused by multiple situations. Often, people with anxiety avoid telling others about their problems because they feel they are a nuisance or a burden.

Therefore, to help your brother deal with your anxiety you must be patient, and understand that his avoidance of telling you details about his anxiety does not necessarily imply a distrust, but the feeling that he is a nuisance to others.

Through coping strategies you can help him control his anxiety symptoms, but first you need to understand the cause of his anxiety, which you can do by communicating with him and approaching him in an empathetic and non-judgmental way.

What does it feel like to have anxiety?

Psychology (1) has studied anxiety as a complex phenomenon, which has specific characteristics that affect people in different areas. Some characteristics of anxiety are:

Cognitive symptoms: fear of losing control; fear of death; fear of “going crazy”; fear of negative evaluation by others; frightening thoughts.

Physiological symptoms: increased heart rate, palpitations; shortness of breath, rapid breathing; chest pain or pressure; choking sensation; dizziness.

Affective symptoms: nervous, tense, wound up; frightened; sadness; irritability.

What can cause your brother’s anxiety?

Anxiety is often multi-causal, meaning that people experience it from various aspects of their lives. Some of the possible causes of your sibling’s stress are:

Work and academic stress

Work and school can be extremely exhausting. Your brother is probably dealing with anxiety because of the pressure he feels at work or in his academic career.

Family problems

This is a factor that you can easily identify. Family dynamics can be stressful, violent and generally anxiety-producing. Therefore, it is possible that your sibling feels anxious because of conflicts within the family dynamics, either with your parents or with any other family member. You can observe this from the tension, conversations and behavior between your sibling and other family members.

Relationship problems

Interpersonal relationships are often a source of stress and anxiety because of the complicated dynamics involved. Whether in relationships or friendships, your sibling’s anxiety may be caused by conflicts, arguments and even violent dynamics that he or she has recently experienced in personal relationships.

Personal insecurities

One of the most common factors of anxiety that go unnoticed, however, are personal insecurities and self-esteem issues. These remain a secret because many people with anxiety believe they are a nuisance to others and avoid talking about their personal concerns.

How can you help your brother cope with his anxiety?

There are different coping strategies to help someone deal with their anxiety episodes. You need to be open with people, in this case your sibling, to communicate your willingness to help them cope with anxiety, and to reassure them that you are there to be supportive.

Breathing exercises

When a person experiences an anxiety attack their entire body goes out of control. Therefore, breathing exercises that help relieve the feeling of anxiety are useful. You can help your brother practice breathing exercises when he has anxiety by serving as a model for him to imitate.

Ask him first if he wants physical contact. If so, hold his hands. Close your eyes and inhale slowly for 4 seconds, then exhale slowly for 4 seconds. Keep a slow rhythm. Notice that your brother is doing the same. Practicing this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes a day is quite helpful in combating anxiety, and will teach your brother to do it when he or she is on his or her own.

Confronting thoughts

People with anxiety may have extremely negative, abrupt thoughts that are often unrelated to reality. Your brother may be calm and out of nowhere, feel anxious because he had a thought about his performance at work or the debts he has to pay.

You can help him by asking him what was going through his mind at the time he started to feel anxious. Never judge or minimize the cause of his anxiety; instead, help him find an alternative, more positive way of thinking. For example, if his thought is “I am a failure at my job,” an alternative, positive thought would be “I am doing my best at my job and I am working hard to correct my failures.”

Recommend seeking professional help

Although emotionally supporting loved ones is very important to help them combat anxiety, it is not the only strategy and decision to be made. It is necessary for him to attend psychological consultation for his own good, to work through the feeling of anxiety that generates discomfort in his life. By helping him to get an appointment with a psychologist (you can even accompany him on the day of the consultation as a show of support), you are allowing him to take control of his life and learn to regulate his own anxious symptoms.

In my experience…

It is possible to help our loved ones deal with anxiety. Through understanding the source of his anxiety and supporting him through coping strategies, you are being supportive of your sibling’s struggle with anxiety. This problem does not have to define him or ruin his life, as he has the strength to cope and the support of people like you willing to help him.

However, you need to understand that despite your help, your sibling must learn to cope with anxiety symptoms on his or her own. Insisting and supporting a loved one to see a psychologist is a sign of love and concern for that person.

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