How to care for an anxious friend
Teresa gives some tips to help your anxious friend feel cared for and calmer
I'm a highly anxious person and deal with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Friends can be some of the most helpful people when dealing with anxiety and I've found there are some things in particular that make me feel calmer and cared for by friends (although this is only from my personal experience).
Give all the details about plans
When going somewhere new or doing something that could make me a bit anxious, one of the best things anyone could do for me is to tell me exactly what is going on so I can be as prepared as possible. It seems simple but it's not often done and it gives a lot of peace of mind. A great many people experience “uncertainty” and therefore, anxiety if they don’t know what to expect.
Offer an alternative to a stressful situation
This could be offering to do something else instead if they don't want to face this particular situation at this time, or offering to take a break from the situation with them if they need it. You can feel like a burden or an idiot for feeling anxious about a party or a club but having someone acknowledge that this is a stressful situation for you and giving you a way out if you need it can make the entire thing a whole lot more bearable. Planning an escape route isn’t always such a bad idea.
Anxiety can make you uncertain of absolutely everything so to have someone there that will reassure you of things (without judging) you is a very valuable thing, a bit of certainty amid the uncertainty. Even if they don't ask, reassuring your friend, verbally or non-verbally (big hug) that they'll be okay can do so much to make them feel cared for, and safer. It can be something as simple as assuring them that you are indeed their friend.
Try to learn what makes them anxious
It's a hard thing to do, especially if they won't talk about it. Being observant and taking note of when they get anxious can help you know when they need a bit more support in the future. It can be really hard to ask someone for help when you feel anxious and having someone who can recognise when you need help without having to say it every time can make life a whole lot easier.
Ask them how you can help
Different people have different ways to try and care for people and in turn, different people have different ways they want to be supported. While one anxious person may need tough love when they are panicking to help get through it, another person may need to be treated gently in the same situation. The easiest way to know the type of support someone needs is just to ask and be open to changing what you’re doing if someone tells you that it isn’t helping. That’s what real friends do. They listen to what you need and don’t assume they know what’s best.
Accept that you probably won’t understand
When it comes to physical pain it is easy for people to understand what others are going through because we all have felt physical pain at some point. Mental pain or struggling is very different. As much as everyone gets nervous or anxious now and then, unless you have an anxiety disorder you may never understand what someone with such a disorder is going through. Even if you do deal with an anxiety disorder or another mental health problem you will probably not fully understand what your friend is going through because everyone’s mental health problems are different and unique to them. It can be frustrating not being able to understand exactly what you want to help your friend through but you must accept that you may never fully understand, not to beat yourself up about it, and just continue to be there for them as best you can.
Love them without judgment
Having your own brain trying to scare you all the time is tough and people with anxiety know how illogical and strange their worries may seem. They don't need someone telling them their worries are irrational and that they just need to calm down. What they need is for someone to love them anyway, to not make them feel bad for feeling how they feel, to listen with an understanding ear, and to help them any way they can. Unconditional love.