Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
10 Ways To Help A Friend Experiencing Anxiety
Published Aug 20th, 2020 & updated on May 22nd, 2021
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in the world. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States every year. That’s nearly the entire population of California! This prevalence means that you’ll probably have some friends experiencing anxiety at some point in your life. Maybe you even have them now. And, as the loving friend you are, you’re wanting to know how you can help your friend who’s experiencing anxiety. Well, we’re happy you’re here.
To offer some insight on how to help a friend dealing with anxiety, we’ve consulted our in-house mental health professional, Natalie Asayag.
This is what you can do!
1. Ask How You Can Help Them With Their Anxiety
No two people are the same. And, no two people deal with anxiety in the same way. AND, of course, no two people need support in the same way. Your friend is the expert on their anxiety. Ask them what works best.
They may need someone to talk to, they may need someone to sit with, or they may need to be alone. Even the best intentions may not help if you don’t know what your friend needs. If you need more clarification on how to help, try to talk to them at a neutral time, not in the middle of an anxiety attack.
2. Normalize Anxiety
Remind your friend that they are not alone in their anxiety, ESPECIALLY during the Covid-19 pandemic. Remind them that their anxiety is not a burden and that it won’t change your friendship.
Encourage them to seek treatment if it would be beneficial, and if they’re nervous to go alone, you could even offer to go along with them. Lastly, remind them that you love them just the way they are and that you’ll be there for them no matter what.
3. Educate Yourself On Anxiety
If you have no experience with anxiety or how it feels, try to do some research. It can be difficult to offer support if you don’t know what feelings you’re supporting. There are tons of celebrities who’ve opened up about their mental health and so many free resources available online!
Don’t know where to start? No problem, we’ve got your back. Will an ultimate guide to mental health help?
4. Monitor Your Own Feelings
Another important consideration for helping a friend with anxiety is whether or not you have the capacity to help, in that moment.
Your mental health is important too. If you’re not in the position to offer support, ask if you can hit pause (respond to the text or call later) and address your own feelings first. This will prevent anger, irritability, and resentment from building up while your friend shares their worries with you.
5. Know What Not To Say About Anxiety
Knowing what not to say is just as important as knowing what to say. It will be different for each person but at least one thing will likely remain the same: never dismiss your friend’s anxiety as trivial or not important.
Saying things like “don’t panic” or “stop worrying” may sound ok in theory but are actually really hurtful and counterproductive. Chances are, if your friend could just magically stop worrying, they would. It’s not that easy.
And if you say something wrong, it’s ok. If they are truly your friend, they’ll know you didn’t mean for it to be harmful. Just apologize and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.
6. Offer Helpful Distractions
We’re not saying you should substitute real conversations about anxiety with 42 cat videos on YouTube. But sometimes 1 or 2 cute videos can be useful distractions during difficult times.
Gather a bunch of videos that make your friend smile or memes that make them laugh. Then, when they’re having a rough day, pull them out as a little light-hearted distraction. Something that seems so small can make a big difference.
7. Offer Reassurance And Point Out The Facts
Natalie reminds us that, “Feelings are both valid and real, but they are not always factual.” If your friend’s worries are irrational, try to gently counter their irrational thoughts with more factual ones. Facts may not make everything better immediately, but they can slowly start to put things into perspective.
8. Ask Questions About Their Anxiety
Asking questions can help clarify the root cause of your friend’s anxiety. As Natalie explains, “Exposing the underlying fears to light doesn’t allow them to grow in the darkness anymore.”
If you’re not comfortable asking your friend questions about their anxiety, encourage them to keep a journal about their anxiety instead. Journaling will help them sort through their overwhelming feelings and lead to a better understanding of their anxiety in general.
An excellent resource for journaling is our DiveThru app. It’s completely free to download and has lots of guided journaling exercises to help with anxiety. Try a quick dive like “Quieting Test Anxiety” or take a deep dive into “Navigating Your Coronavirus Anxiety”. All you need to start journaling is a pen and a piece of paper – it’s that easy. Despite its simplicity, there are sooo many benefits associated with journaling including decreased stress and improved decision making. Give it a try!
9. Check In
8.2 seconds. That’s how long it takes to send a text with a heart emoji. You’re doubting us. Don’t. We timed it. And it’ll be even faster when the heart emoji is in your recently used section – which it will be as soon as you finish reading this paragraph, riiight?
Sometimes one simple text is all you need to let someone know you’re thinking about them. Other alternatives include leaving an encouraging post-it note on their desk or giving them a call after a long day. Checking in on others is a simple way to let them know you’re there for them and invested in their mental health.
10. Encourage Them To Take Action
Encouraging friends to take action and confront their anxiety is great progress, even if each action seems small. According to Natalie, “If we lean into the uncomfortable feelings, rather than avoid, this helps us to feel in control instead of powerless”.
Just be conscious that you’re never forcing your friend to do anything. Always work at their pace and let them decide what they want to tackle that day.
You could also work alongside your friend by holding a weekly/monthly Power Hour. The Power Hour is a time to ‘power through’ any tasks that you both may be putting off due to feeling anxious or overwhelmed. You’ll be able to work through the tasks with the support of one another, which makes them more manageable. And when you conquer them, we recommend celebrating with ice cream or cookies. Or both.
Living with anxiety is hard. It’s often a daily battle and the majority of it goes unnoticed. With that being said, having a good support system can make all the difference in the world.
So from us to you, thank you for taking the time to read this. We know that, with these suggestions, you’ll be able to better support a friend dealing with anxiety. We know your friend will thank you, too.