7 Ways to Help an Anxious Friend
Jerry Kennard | Jan 24, 2017
People with high levels of anxiety often lead very restricted lives. They frequently find it easier to stay safe at home and avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable. But there’s a lot a friend can do to help. Here are seven ideas to get things started.
Establishing boundaries is tricky — but necessary. You’re not a therapist. You’re not a counselor. You don’t have all the answers. You are a friend. That’s the boundary. Of course, you’ll want to reassure, but friends are there for shared interests, for fun times and, sometimes, for persuading anxious friends not to get stuck in a rut.
Get to know more about anxiety. If your friend has a specific type of anxiety, such as a phobia, learning about it can help. Perhaps the best thing you can do, in the end, is support your friend in getting professional help. Offer to go to a session with them, if you can.
Know the signs
Avoidance is a big part of anxiety. Be vigilant. Your anxious friend may agree to something, only to back out at the last minute due to a headache, or because “something else” is more of a priority. There’s no harm in highlighting what’s going on and helping your anxious friend break the issue down into smaller steps.
Encourage them to get out with you
The cause of anxiety might seem remarkably small — sometimes involving something as “simple” as a short walk to a local store. If you can persuade your friend to take a little regular exercise with you, it might help. Gradually increase the options, such as stopping for a coffee. Anything that encourages movement is good.
Challenge their fears
Don’t be afraid to challenge fears. Negative thinking is only one way of looking at a situation. It’s good that you suggest alternative perspectives and encourage your friend to do likewise.
Remember: pace yourself
Don’t force the pace. Your friend is probably both acutely aware of and embarrassed by his or her anxiety issue. There is nothing to be gained by attempting to impose change. It’s better to encourage your friend to think things through and talk about possible blocks. Then, when your friend is ready for change, you’ll be ready, too.
Be willing to experiment. You may find that your friend is prepared to do certain things, but not others. Remember, you’re doing what you can, but ultimately your friend is in charge of his or her own life. Keep things positive and encourage your friend with any self-help or professional endeavors he or she may undertake.