10 things you should know to help a friend with anxiety

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
08 January 2020
Next review due January 2023

If your friend keeps cancelling plans, misses your calls, seems on edge, and often says they feel tired or headachy – they might have anxiety. And these are only some of the symptoms. It’s understandable that you might not have come to this conclusion straight off the bat. You might be feeling hurt, or think they’re just being lazy or a bad friend. But they could be battling something completely different, and fuelled by the nature of anxiety, they would be really upset if they thought they’d offended you.

Here are some of the things your friend probably wishes they could tell you about their anxiety, and how you can help.

1. Anxiety doesn’t have an off switch

Your friend may be struggling to control their anxiety; there isn’t an on or off switch. And sometimes the anxiety can occupy every space in their head, leaving little room for anything other than worry.

2. Social situations can be difficult

Your friend isn’t cancelling on you because they don’t want to see you or because they can’t be bothered. The anxiety, for now, has taken over and the fear of going out in a social situation is too scary.

3. Living with anxiety can be exhausting

Your friend may be exhausted and always seem tired. You might not understand why. But even though they aren’t doing a physical workout, their mind is on overdrive, which is very draining and can translate into physical symptoms.

4. Anxiety can be triggered by different things

Different situations and environments can bring on anxiety. Public places, meeting people, work and social events (and even using a public toilet) can be very anxiety-inducing for some people. If your friend has social anxiety, they might be worried that people are going to laugh at them, or that they will say or do something embarrassing. They will probably be worrying about it before, during and after the event. So you can see that it’s a very intrusive condition.

5. Anxiety can present in different ways

Anxiety can come out in a variety of ways. Your friend might be irritable with you or overreact to things they wouldn’t normally react to, such as being startled or surprised. Try not to take it personally and be patient with your friend.

6. People with anxiety need support – but it can be hard to ask for

Ask your friend what they need. Sometimes they might just need a hug. It’s important to let your friend know that you’re there and they can ask you for help without being scared to do so.

7. Anxiety can’t be told, “stop worrying”

This is what not to say to someone with anxiety. People with anxiety are often very aware that they’re worrying too much, that they need to try and calm down or that they are overreacting. But telling them this won’t help. They already know it and if they could do it, they would.

8. Pressure can make things worse

If your friend doesn’t want to do something, leave it there. Don’t try to persuade them to change their mind or force them into situations, as this can make them feel worse.

9. Anxiety can make people retreat – but don’t give up on them

Don’t disappear. Keep up the invitations – even if your friend continually declines, or accepts and then cancels later. Suggest something that will involve just the two of you. Some days are better than others and your friend just might feel able to take you up on it.

10. People with anxiety don’t always know why they feel anxious

If your friend tells you they are feeling anxious, be aware that they might not know why, or be able to explain. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. But also accept their answer if they can’t tell you what’s worrying them in that moment. Instead try and empathise with them. Think about how you would like to be helped in a situation when you’ve felt upset or anxious. The best thing you can do to help your friend is to learn about, and understand, what they’re experiencing; be patient and kind, and don’t give up on them – they need you. Encourage them to seek help from a medical professional, such as a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapist, who can help them manage their symptoms.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Fatmata Kamara
Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

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