My roommate suggested that I write this post and I thought it was a great idea. For people that don’t have anxiety or struggle with their mental health, it’s hard to know exactly how it feels or how to act when someone else is struggling. Is it better to leave them alone? Should I ask if they’re okay? Is there a way I can help them? All of those questions are valid and I think it’s important to open up a dialogue with the people around you to try and give some answers.
One very important note to make here is that everyone is different. Anxiety doesn’t affect everyone the same way and so the way you go about interacting with people who are struggling can look very different. It is always important to ask the person you are trying to support what specifically helps them. Don’t take my suggestions in this post as absolute truth. Use it as a guide that can be molded to fit the person you have a relationship with.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when talking to someone struggling with anxiety is that they aren’t choosing to have this issue. Therefore, they cannot choose not to worry. There have been various times in my life where I would be describing something I was feeling particularly anxious about and the response I got was something like “Just don’t worry about it. It’s not that big of a deal.” While in the grand scheme of things that statement might be true, to the person feeling anxious, it is a big deal. Undermining their feelings makes them feel self conscious. Instead of telling them to just not worry about something, try talking to them about why this thing is worrying them and then give suggestions on ways to deal with that worry. Say something like, “I understand that this upsets you and I know it feels like a big deal right now, but if you look at it from this angle it isn’t as bad as you think.” Give them an alternative mindset without disregarding their feelings. Make them feel heard and then lay out a logical way to look at and attack the problem. We know what we are thinking is illogical, but we struggle with making ourselves believe the logical solution. Hearing someone else lay out that solution can be helpful.
If you know that a friend or partner has anxiety and you know the things they get most anxious about, be proactive. For example, if they have social anxiety and you decide to go to a party, be receptive to their needs. This doesn’t mean baby them. Treat them normally, but check in with them and ask if they are having fun. Don’t leave them to fend for themselves at a party. That is a worst nightmare scenario for people with social anxiety. Hang out with them and if they decide they want to leave, don’t get angry at them. That will only make them feel worse. Be respectful and listen to what they need in the moment.
Let them talk. Sometimes when someone is feeling anxious about something, they just want to get it off of their chest. They don’t always want advice. They just need someone to listen. All you need to do is sit there and give your support.
Ask questions. It’s perfectly normal to not understand what having anxiety is like if you don’t struggle with it. The only way to better understand your friend’s feelings is to ask them to describe it. I am always happy to answer questions because it shows me the person cares enough to ask. When you are able to understand anxiety better, it will help you be less annoyed when your friend can’t do something because their anxiety is too much.
Finally, be patient. We are aware that we sometimes make normal things more difficult. That is just the way our brains work. Going to a party is different for us, than it is for you. Riding in a car is different for me than it is for you. Normal things are just a little more difficult for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be included. It’s important that you treat us normally, while having in the back of your mind that you may need to be patient in certain situations. Be respectful and be kind. That’s all we can ask for.
A lot of these things are broad ideas that I think are helpful to think about when interacting with the people in your life who struggle with anxiety. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is important to start a dialogue and to determine what is most helpful for them. Just talking to them and wanting to understand will go a long way.
Start talking in the comments below about other tips you have. I am by no means an expert, so more opinions are always welcome! Thanks for supporting this site!