Anxiety is a very tough thing to deal with. There’s a difference between everyday anxiety and having an anxiety disorder.
If an anxious friend decides to tell you, it’s important to respond in a way that offers support. Even if you don’t know what advice to give, it will mean the world if you’re there to listen.
So what should we be doing and saying? Below are eight helpful things you can say to hold space for someone who is struggling with anxiety.
“I’m here for you or I’m here to listen”
You don’t have to understand what your friend or your family member is going through to be there for them. Listen without judgment to what they have to say and what their experiences are like. Show support by telling them you’re there for them. Asking how you can help and listening to what they have to say.
“I love you”
Sometimes we worry that we have become too much of an annoyance for our friends and family, and that they do not care about us anymore. It is a great relief to be told ‘I love you, no matter what’, because that assures us that our anxiety will not stop people from caring about us.
“I care for you”
Showing you care will help if your friend is self-conscious about their anxiety or has a hard time opening up about it. Showing support can help them feel more comfortable and take away some of the stigma that compels them to hide—which is a pretty amazing thing to do for someone you care about.
“I’ve noticed you’ve been anxious a lot lately, and I’m concerned”
If you notice your friend getting more and more anxious and you know they haven’t sought any kind of professional help, it’s OK to express your concern if it comes from the heart. Remind them that anxiety is treatable, even without medication, and that this isn’t something they have to fight alone.
“What can I do to help you?”
Ask what they need and then do it, even if their request seems silly to you. Showing you’re willing to offer assistance helps us anxious folk feel like we’re being taken seriously.
“I’ll go with you if it’s too scary”
If your friend is having a difficult time being alone, you could offer to go over to talk (or just hang) until their anxiety subsides a little. The need to be accompanied when feeling panicky is one of the important safety behaviors to reduce anxiety.
“Your feelings are valid“
Try to accept your friend’s feelings and behaviors, even if you don’t fully understand them. Don’t dismiss their fear of something, whether it’s a social situation, or something else, just because you don’t share those same fears. Remember that even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal for you, it’s real and scary to them.
“This is tough, but we’ll get through it together“
Talking about what is bothering us is great for letting out all the bad anxiety feelings, and it can also help to figure out what caused the anxiety troubles in the first place.
Keep in mind that anxiety is a fickle beast, and the ways to be there for a friend or a family member who has it might change over time.
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