5 Ways to Understand and Support Someone With Anxiety
When you recognize that someone you care about is struggling with anxiety, it can seem like there’s not much you can do to help. Their fear feels so personal, and their worries so big that it might feel like nothing you can say or do to ease their pain. But as with any challenge, the difficulty of supporting a friend with anxiety just makes it even more essential to find ways to be there for them.
Be a listening ear
Asking questions like “What is it about this situation that concerns you?” can help your friend identify and clarify their worries. And as you listen without judging or trying to fix their feelings, they may discover insights or next steps that arise from within.
You may also want to share some of your experiences and feelings, like “When I get nervous before a test, it helps me to take deep breaths.” If a friend opens up to you and shares their anxiety, recognizing and naming their feelings can be helpful. If they say they feel “crazy,” you could respond by saying, “You seem like you’re feeling pretty anxious right now.” This doesn’t mean they are “crazy,” as some people may feel, but anxiety can make us feel that way.
Help them understand why they feel anxious
Anxiety is an emotional state caused by a perceived threat. The “danger” might be real or imagined, but the fear it causes is very real. So what can you do when a friend feels anxious? Recognize that they are not being weak by sharing their feelings! They are being courageous. Anxiety is a normal human response to a situation that seems threatening or that we aren’t prepared for. Anxiety can also be helpful when preparing for a challenge, such as a public speech or an exam. It’s only a problem when it lasts too long or becomes too intense. If your friend feels anxious, let them know that you understand what they are going through. Acknowledge that many people have anxiety.
Help them know their feelings are valid
When someone is anxious, it can feel like a huge burden to have to reassure them that everything will be okay. And yet those reassurances are very important to help the person feel better and assure them that their feelings are valid. But how do you do this when you’re feeling anxious? Well, this is one of those times when your words are even more important. As you comfort your friend, remember that their fear is real for them. It might not be easy to imagine it, but that doesn’t make it any less real for your friend. It may help to remind yourself that anxiety isn’t about being irrational or feeling “stupid,” it’s about feeling threatened. Your friend isn’t being “weak” or “overdramatizing” their fear; they are human.
Help them develop habits for relaxation and self-care
As you listen to your friend, you may notice that they are doing a lot of “shoulding” on themselves. “I should be better by now,” “I should be able to handle this.” Shoulds can add to the stress of anxiety, as can the pressure to “get over it” quickly. Instead, you can help your friend by encouraging them to notice what works for them in terms of self-care.
Help them connect with others who understand
When anxiety gets in the way of connecting with others, it can feel like you’re living in prison. If a friend has shut themselves off due to anxiety, encourage them to reach out. What can you do:
- Send a text or email to let them know you are thinking of them and that you care.
- Suggest going for a walk or doing something else that involves spending time with them.
- Ask them what they need right now, be it space or conversation.
- Tell them you don’t expect them to “snap out of it” quickly.
Anxiety is a very common stress response. When we fear something, our bodies produce adrenaline, so we’re ready to fight or flee if necessary. This response has its roots in our cave-dwelling ancestors; if they hadn’t run from bears or leaped over rivers, they wouldn’t have survived enough to pass on their genes. Anxious feelings can be reduced by learning more about anxiety, practicing helpful strategies, and receiving support from others.