I’ve always been an anxious person, even as a child. As a kid, I would second guess everything that I did. I was told that I was shy and that I needed to overcome my shyness by getting out of my comfort zone. By college, I had to face dark moments where I felt like my life was spiraling out of control. Panic attacks would haunt me. Graduating felt more like a dreaded milestone rather than a sought-after goal.
I feel confident in saying that I’ve been dealing with anxiety long enough to know that the words you say to someone struggling with anxiety matter quite a lot. But with time I also realized that helping someone with anxiety is not an easy task. A few friends of mine confessed that approaching me felt at times intimidating. And if your friend doesn’t understand what they’re struggling with yet, they may not be able to give you a clear answer about what you can do to help. Use the ideas below as a starting point.
1. I’m Here for You
You don’t have to understand what your friend is going through to be there for them. Panicking about going to the cinema because you’re afraid of having a panic attack there won’t feel relatable to you. The sometimes paralyzing anxiety people like me feel in random circumstances is deeply illogical. What you can do is show that you care. Listen to what your friend has to say about what their experiences are like. Try not to be too judgemental. Being there for someone even if you can’t relate is a great way of showing support.
2. You Don’t Need to Feel Pressured, Take All the Time You Need
Constantly asking someone if they’re ok is quite anxiety-inducing. While your intentions may be good, it feels more like you need your friend to get better now. Sometimes, that’s just not possible. Anxiety is not something you can fix from the outside. A better strategy may be trying to break the cycle of panic and panicking about panic by grounding your friend back to reality. Get your friend’s mind off their emotions by asking if they want to go for a walk (social distancing notwithstanding) or if they want to listen to some music. It may take some time, but this is the only kind of supportive push that can really help your friend.
3. I Love You and That’s Why I’m Here
Those of us with anxiety can get quite self-conscious. Sometimes we worry that we have become too much of a nuisance for our friends and family. We know that sometimes dealing with us can be infuriating. So it’s a great relief to be shown some unconditional love – that assures us that our anxiety will not stop people from caring about us.
4. It’s Really Ok That You’re Not Okay Right Now
Anybody with anxiety can tell you that there is not much truth about the idea that anxiety can be controlled through will-power alone. It’s not some kind of imaginary affliction we use to gain pity. Any form of validation lets us know that you’re taking us seriously. That means a lot.
Ultimately, there are many ways you can help a friend struggling with anxiety. Pick a suggestion that feels ok to you. And then, be prepared to experiment. You don’t need to always get it right. You’re doing the best you can.