Have you noticed your friend acting different or “off” lately? Does someone you know consistently avoid stressful situations? Is your friend noticeably irritated? Is your friend overly fearful of unlikely situations happening? Does someone you know seem overly jittery?
They may just be struggling with anxiety. Anxiety disorders are ranked as the most common mental illness in the United States and affect approximately 40 million people over 18 years old 1(Anxiety and Depression Association of America, n.d.). There are young adults who are faced with difficult decisions to make about their personal life, professional life, career goals and those natural stressors are on top of the unexpected events that may be occurring in their lives simultaneously. Maybe you want to help lessen the anxiety about these situations or relieve their anxiety for just a few minutes. Follow these tips below to help them find better ways to cope with anxiety and understand it.
1. Explore some activities that could help decrease stress and anxiety levels.
Though we cannot eliminate anxiety over certain issues altogether, there are ways the people around them can help decrease overall stress and anxiety. Psychology Today suggests things like exercising, meditating, helping them get through their to-do lists, or even attending yoga classes as a way to destress and manage anxiety 2(Boyes, 2018). Physical activity is a proven way to reduce stress and anxiety feelings, acting as an outlet for those built up emotions. Going on a hike together or even grocery shopping together will help get things done faster with them and decrease overall anxiety.
2. Talk openly with them and validate their feelings.
Let them vent to you openly about what it is that is making them anxious or feel overwhelmed or on edge. No matter what the cause is, it is still valid and allowing them to speak about their issues without stigmatizing them or putting their anxiety in a group of what you think you know about it will give you more insight on what exactly they need for you to support them. Psychologists remind us to not reassure our friends dealing with anxiety because it invalidates their fears/anxiety and will discourage them from sharing more 3(Boyes, 2018). It’s better to work on the coping mechanisms they will use if their fear comes to light so they are prepared. Let them speak and listen so you can get the information you need from them to decide what kind of help they need.
3. Seek professional help.
After gaining understanding through open conversation, you may decide they need some expert help that you cannot provide. Here are some professional resources to be of use for both you and your loved one.
- The Crisis Text Line can be used in bouts of anxiety or panic attacks, too. That’s the beauty of free resources like this is that they are adaptable and not limited to one mental health issue. Text the crisis line at 741741 to chat back and forth with an expert in anxiety related issues. You can text at any time, completely free to get support from someone who is trained and get information that could be useful to you in another crisis situation. They will counsel you and provide you with next steps to take and resources specific to the issue at hand to help in the future.
- Counselors or regular therapy are another great option. Deciding to talk to someone out of the people they are closest to will give an outsider perspective and allow for the expert advice. Counselors and therapists could be found through the crisis text line resources they provide, through a primary care physician, or even an internet search. Either way, therapy will be useful for professional interference and maintaining an ongoing way to coping with anxiety.
- Support groups through university services or workplace resources may be available. A support group may be found at their workplace, community health services, or university services if they are a student. These allow people who also have anxiety issues or just need a place to talk about what they are struggling with to relate with one another and talk in a safe place. This might help them feel not alone in their own personal struggles.
4. Learn to recognize their signs of anxiety.
Getting educated on the issues your friends are struggling with is a great step toward being more understanding and finding techniques to help. Anxiety signs may occur after some event in their life happens or in a specific social setting or at random. There’s no overarching sign of anxiety as it is subjective to the person experiencing it, but a few signs that may suggest your friend is going through anxiety episodes could be feeling agitated, restlessness, sleeping trouble, avoiding social events, having a hard time concentrating, or just expressing their worries excessively 4(Julson, 2018).
5. Encourage treatment options.
Through professional help experiences, you may find there are different treatments they may need. One of these may be using medication, holistic therapies like essential oils, or seeking other professional advice from someone other than their regular counselor. Be supportive about their treatment. Make it known that their health is a priority and whatever they feel may aid in decreasing their anxiety effects they should decide to do. What their professional therapist may suggest should be taken seriously and you can be the one to openly discuss it with them and research the different treatments together.
6. Actively listen without providing any fixes to their anxiety.
Validating them and allowing them to open up in step two should be followed by encouraging words, not solutions. It’s okay to feel the way they are feeling and since you are not in their head, you don’t really know what it’s like in that moment for them. Instead of focusing on how to get rid of their anxiety, focus on how they can learn to cope with their anxiety. You or someone else they trust won’t always be there with them and the time you do spend listening to them express their anxiety should be used to come up with some different techniques they may use to cope with their anxiety if it worsens or the next time it occurs. Don’t spend time trying to provide solutions, instead challenge their thoughts and try to to reel their anxiety back in to be more realistic. Actively listen to the kind of support they need because everyone’s responsiveness to help is different.
7. Keep them company.
Spending time with them and being present in the moment can sometimes be effective in managing their ongoing anxiety. Anxiety often progresses into panic attacks and the best way to help someone going through one would be to just be present in that moment with them. Helping them focus on their breathing and focusing on one thought at a time will calm them down in the moment of an anxiety attack and enable you time to get them whatever they need to stay calm. Your presence is important in times like these, so keep them company whenever they are feeling especially anxious.
8. Check in on them on an ongoing basis.
This is not an issue that is solvable or sorted out in one therapy session. Anxiety is recurring and it is helpful if you as a friend continuously check in on them via text, phone call or in-person quality time. Sending simple text messages or calling and even leaving an encouraging voicemail will show them you care and have interest in their ongoing progress with anxiety management. Anxiety has no one cure or treatment, thus it is important to let your friend know you are rooting for them through the entire process of finding the help and treatments that best work for them!
9. Maintain boundaries.
Don’t try to take on their anxiety yourself or do stuff for them that may increase their anxiety. Psychologists report that avoidance is a typical behavior of someone struggling with anxiety and leads them to not do tasks because it makes them anxious. It’s okay to help a friend find resources and counseling services, but you cannot make the phone calls for them or set up appointments for them because that would enable their avoidance behavior and discourage dealing with their own anxiety. Set boundaries, tell them what you are willing to help them with and what you think would be best for them to do on their own so they are able to mentally prepare and feel comfortable coping with their anxiety themselves.
10. Utilize free resources available to you and your loved one.
The Crisis Text Line already discussed in this article is one free, 24/7 available resource. There’s also internet sources that are free and can connect you to the right people to help. One of these is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website which can be used to seek low-cost treatment options, research therapists nearby that specialize in anxiety, and even find support groups. In a world like today with coronavirus worries, there are even options available on their site to connect with Telehealth therapy appointments.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
- Boyes, A. (2016, July 13). How to Help Someone with Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201607/how-help-someone-anxiety#:~:text=Exercise%20
- Julson, E. (2018, April 10). 11 Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/anxiety-disorder-symptoms