Small ways to help your friend deal with anxiety
“I don’t know what to say or do to help her. I sometimes feel I am saying all the wrong things or just stay silent because I am scared of making it worse” says Ishani, in a therapy session, when talking about her experience with a friend struggling with anxiety.
Understanding how to support a friend coping with anxiety can be quite confusing and riddled with questions regarding whether or not to give them space, engage them in a fun activity or talk to them about their experience and how to do so, as well.
While there is no guidebook as such for supporting your friend with anxiety, here are a few ways to show your support:
Listen, empathise and understandTake the time and effort to really listen non-judgmentally to your friend about what they’re struggling with – what their experience of anxiety is. This will give you more insight into how it feels for them and help them feel heard and valued.
Researching a little about what anxiety feels like will help you understand what they might be experiencing and help you support them better.
Ask them what they need from youLike Ishani has voiced, knowing a friend is struggling with anxiety can be an extremely helpless experience- on one hand, you want to do everything to help your friend but on the other hand, you’re scared of making it worse by saying/doing the wrong thing.
No matter how much reading you do about coping with anxiety, the best way to convey your support is to ask them how they need you to support them. Everyone has different ways they would like support to be shown or find different aspects helpful.
By asking them what you can do to help and what they need, rather than doing nothing or assuming they need a particular way of help, when they are feeling anxious will encourage them to feel supportedand safe enough to actually reach out to you for help.
Look after yourselfIt is easy to feel responsible for your friend and feel like it is your duty to help them. However there is a fine line between support and taking on responsibility that often gets quickly blurred.
It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for their well-being and you have to take care of yourself too. This might be through taking some time and space for yourself and setting boundaries with your friend about your limitations in helping.
Encourage them to seek helpIf they are not already seeking help, one of the most important aspects of supporting a friend with anxiety is encouraging them to seek professional help.
If they are nervous about doing so or do not know where to start, you could support them by helping them research different options for therapy or even accompany them to the initial appointment, if they are apprehensive about going alone.