Having a friend with anxiety can be difficult when you don't know how to help, or the right things to say. Find out how to help someone with anxiety, things you may need to avoid, and how to look after yourself if you get stressed or worried.
Read on if you:
- Have a friend(s) with an anxiety disorder
- Want to learn about what’s helpful and what isn’t
- Want to learn about how to balance helping your friend and taking care of yourself
How to help someone with anxiety
Helping a friend with anxiety doesn't have to be hard or complicated, sometimes all it takes is letting your friend know that you don’t think their worries are weird or stupid. After all, everyone gets anxious sometimes. Below are some ways you can help.
Learn about anxiety
Be open and welcoming
- Different types of anxiety problems have a lot in common, but they also have important differences.
- Learning more about the particular type of problem your friend might be struggling with can help you understand and support them.
It is common for people suffering from anxiety to not readily want to discuss their symptoms. Be prepared to offer your help several times, without being overly intrusive or overwhelming. Be clear you want to help them because you care.
Encourage your friend to get help
- A good first step is to suggest they visit their GP or their school/university psychologist.
- If they’re reluctant, chat to them about what’s stopping them and help them think it through.
- Remember: it's your friend’s choice to get help, and pushing them into doing something they aren’t ready for isn’t a good idea.
- Recommend ReachOut NextStep it's an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with.
Show them a different perspective
- Let your friend know you don’t agree with their ideas about the things that make them anxious. It can help them consider that there are other ways to view the situation.
- For example, if they’re thinking ‘I’m definitely going to fail this exam’ you could reassure them that they’ve done lots of study, they’re well-prepared and they’re going to do a great job.
- Remember that challenging fears is different to dismissing their worries. You want to reassure them, not make them feel stupid. Ask your friend to tell you what they’re feeling anxious about, and specifically what they’re thinking
Relaxation and breathing
If your friend suddenly starts to experience negative emotions, calmly encourage your friend to slow their breathing by inhaling, holding it, and then exhaling for a count of 4 seconds each. ReachOut's mobile app called Breathe, is great for this. It’s also a good idea to recommend some different relaxation strategies to them.
Celebrate with them!
When your friend takes a step towards facing their fears, celebrate with them by doing something fun together, and help them feel proud of starting to tackle the issue.
What not to do
- Don’t encourage your friend to keep avoiding things that make them anxious. Avoiding situations doesn't give them a chance to learn that what they’re scared of may not actually happen (or be all that scary). Avoidance keeps their anxiety going.
- On the flip side, don’t try and force your friend into facing their fears; they need to take their own initiative with this. Instead, gently encourage them to face their fears and let them know you believe they can do it.
Looking after yourself:
- Set clear boundaries with your friend about what you are and aren't willing to do to help them. For instance, you might want to let your friend know you’re there for them if they need someone to talk to, but that you can’t talk when you’re in class or at work.
- Make sure you keep up with your social and fun activities, especially if supporting your friend is starting to get you a bit down.
- If you’re starting get upset or down, speak to someone you trust (perhaps a person who doesn’t know your friend), about how you’re feeling.
- If you feel like you need other support in addition to friends and family, get some support from a psychologist or other professional. Let your friend know there are some things you don’t feel able to help them with, and encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional.