People can argue day in and day out about whether anxiety is a real disorder or not, but for someone suffering from anxiety, there is no question of it being real. It can be hard to understand anxiety if you aren’t going through it yourself. It is also hard to see a friend going through anxiety and not know how you can help them. Anxiety is more than just getting nervous before you have to get up and give a presentation in front of the class–that’s a part of life and it affects almost everyone.
The Mayo Clinic defines anxiety as persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about everyday activities and events. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance and is difficult to control. The anxiety can even affect how you feel physically. There are several different types of anxiety all with different symptoms and they all come with their own varying level of intensity. Keeping that in mind, there are some things you can do to help your friend no matter what form of anxiety they have
1) Do not tell them that it’s all in their head. Even if it is in their head, it is not going to help them; it might even be the worst thing you could do. It can be almost impossible to calm down based on this logic alone. Their reaction can be caused by chemicals in their brain, and just telling them that it’s in their head will not help.
2) Don’t push your friend to do something they tell you they aren’t comfortable with. It can be easy to tell your friend “Just step outside of their comfort zone,” maybe it is that simple for you but for someone with anxiety, stepping outside their comfort zone is like jumping off a cliff. If they feel like they can’t handle something, the best thing you can do is be supportive and try to come up with another option.
3) It can also be helpful to find out what triggers your friend’s anxiety. They might not be able to tell you what their triggers are but if you watch them, you should be able to notice what causes their anxiety attacks. Recognizing your friend’s triggers and getting them out of a situation that could be a potential disaster is something your friend will be eternally grateful for.
4) Try to be as patient as you can with them. It can be easy to get frustrated with your friend because you don’t see the situation the same as they do. To you, the situation that caused your friend’s anxiety attack may be cut and dry and easy to figure out a solution to, but when you have anxiety it’s not that simple.
5) One of the best things you can do is to reassure them that you care about them. When you have anxiety, it can be easy to feel like you are being a burden to your friends and that you aren’t normal. Your friend needs to hear that you are there for them, that they aren’t annoying you and that you are still your friend. You should probably say that to all your friends, but your friends with anxiety will really appreciate it.
Sometimes being a good friend is all you can do. Being caring and supportive is what your friend needs; it will mean the world to them.