If you have a friend that you expect has some issues around anxiety, then you may have walked away scratching your head after a conversation with her at least once. It can be confusing and hard to understand people who suffer from anxiety if you don’t yourself. As someone who has stood in both sets of shoes, I can totally appreciate how much it can feel like eggshells crushing under your feet as you clumsily try to make your friend feel better.
I fully believe that knowledge is power, and I’m dedicating this blog post to all the women out there who are helpers, bleeding hearts, or people who just really want some tactical tips around being friends with a person who has anxiety. Thank you for being you!
The more you know… Thinking about some of the behaviors your friend has shown you when you know that anxiety has been plaguing her, are there patterns or certain triggers that you know of? You are not her doctor or therapist, but I am a huge proponent of educating myself on things I don’t know, and anxiety-filled people are forever wishing that their friends understood them a little more. There are some really great resources on this topic that are quick and dirty to read, and may help you understand your friend a little better.
Put it in “the vault.” People with anxiety, as if it wasn’t enough on its’ own, also have that fun little cherry on top of wondering if they’ll be “outed,” or that people will think unkindly of them, or ask questions that might yet trigger another attack or bad thoughts. Recognize that, and let your friend know that you’re on their side. A lot of anxiety happens on the inside, which can be very lonely. Knowing someone is there might not seem helpful to your friend at the time, but I promise they are in need of a real, true friend who they can trust.
Get curious. Anxiety can bring on the most confusing feelings and to spit them out, even harder. Know before going in that judgment won’t work here. It’s important to show up as a calm, but investigative person who is trying to help pull it all together. Asking questions about feelings is okay, and may even help your friend work through triggers (they might not even know what they are). They need to know that if you can be strong and full of hope for better days, then they can too.
Make them laugh – Flex your funny bone, because it has been scientifically proven that anxiety and depression can be helped with laughter. According to this study, laughter is so important to reducing stress and anxiety. If something happens during your day that you think is funny, send your friend a text or make a really quick phone call or voice message for the full effect. That way, she can have something to look back on as a coping strategy when you can’t be there for her.
Stay the course. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder your friend has, you may be left with unanswered texts/emails, plans being cancelled, or broken promises in general. First, decide if this is a course you’d like to stay, knowing that these are very real possibilities. If it is, then deal with your feelings of hurt and neglect in the healthiest way possible – process, process, process. Bringing them up in the gentlest way, once the initial fire of those feelings has burned off, will go a much longer way in the growth of your friendship.
I hope you’ve been inspired to create your own brand of support for your friends who need it the most! How do you support a friend with anxiety?