How to support a friend with anxiety
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
It is almost guaranteed that someone you know or yourself will struggle with anxiety at some point. If you haven’t experienced anxiety yourself you might find it challenging supporting a friend who is suffering. There is a fine line between being helpful and unhelpful, which will differ from person to person. This blog covers some basic starting points of how to support a friend with anxiety.
Learn about anxiety
Anxiety is a common disorder that you or someone you know is likely going to experience at some point. If you don’t know much about it, jumping on google can help answer the basics about the disorder. Knowing the broad symptoms, treatments and how it occurs can help you understand what your friend is going through.
Have an open chat
While there are helpful ways you can interact there can also be less helpful phrases or actions that may impact them. While your intentions are good some people may find certain phrases ignorant. It pays to have an open discussion and work out how you can be supportive not unhelpful.
Having a conversation about what exactly you can do to help will show you’re there to support and that in itself is a huge help to someone suffering from anxiety. Anxiety differs from person to person so there is not one set guide to helping them. Some people may just want company, others may benefit from certain phrases.
As anxiety has a nasty way of distorting thoughts, make sure you're always reiterating phrases such as you love hanging out with them, you think they're a great friend, and that you're always there for them.
Avoid being unhelpful
There are certain phases or notions that you should avoid unless your friend has told you they help. Phrases or suggesting that anxiety is no big deal, saying it's normal or saying there is no reason for them to be feeling like this can often be processed the wrong way. While you are trying to be helpful these phrases devalue what they are feeling. These often suggest you don’t think anxiety is a serious issue therefore will make them feel invalid.
If your friend isn't already seeing a psychologist or therapist it could be a good idea to help find one. Of course, having a conversation beforehand whether they would like to see one is a good idea. Gently bring it into conversation and see what the reaction is, don’t be pushy about it. It might be what they need, to realise they can get professional help and have you support them on their way to finding a suitable therapist. Here they will be able to strengthen their management of anxiety and take these techniques with them to manage any situation.
Don’t obsess over it
While it’s important to have these conversations with someone suffering from anxiety don’t make it the sole focus of your friendship. Unless your friend wants to, try avoid always talking about it and focus on the good stuff instead. Let them be the instigators of the conversations around anxiety, if you’re constantly trying to talk about it with them they may feel uncomfortable or pressured.
Keep regular contact
Checking in with your friend regularly even if just via text can be hugely beneficial for them. Asking how they are or how they feel can be a great non-invasive question which allows them to bring up anxiety if they want to. Try to be as available as you can be for them.
Find an activity you both like
Finding a new activity or an existing one that you both enjoy can really help with managing their anxiety and taking their mind off it. It also places value on your friendship and will reiterate the fact you are genuinely their friend.
Check in with yourself
Check in with your own feelings and emotions and make time for yourself. Yes, it’s great to be there for your friend but don’t put too much pressure on yourself if you’re feeling worn out. If you need some space, it’s okay to let them know you can’t hang out, just make sure to reiterate you do love hanging out with them and make time for them later.
COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have brought a whole new set of challenges to helping a friend with anxiety. While many of these constraints are being lifted, some still apply. Trying to help someone with anxiety from a distance can be tricky, but there are ways around it. Schedule video calls or virtual coffee dates, this will leave both of you having something to look forward to. There are definitely ways around this, just get creative. Here's an article on adjusting to life after COVID.