10 Things You Can Do (or Not Do) to Remind Your Friend With Anxiety You Care
Speaking frankly, being friends with someone who has anxiety can be hard on both parties. I’m self-aware enough to realize that being my friend can come with extra challenges; there is a constant fear boiling in the pit of my stomach that my friends don’t actually like me. This can be fueled by overhearing them make plans without me, or sometimes literally nothing. Anxiety doesn’t need an impetus.
Regardless of the reason, here is a list of things you can do (or not do) to remind your friend with anxiety that you care.
1. Let them know you think of them.
If you read a story in your English course that you think they’d like, forward the story to them. Even if it’s something small like seeing someone with a nice jacket, text your friend something like, “Saw someone with a really great jacket! Reminded me of your awesome fashion sense.” If they miss a day of school or work, tell them that you miss them. You don’t need a reason to send these messages. Just let them know you’re thinking of them. Telling your friend you think of them only takes a few seconds; it can quiet the voices in your friend’s head that say you don’t care.
2. When you say you’re busy, tell them why.
If possible, even update them. For example, if you couldn’t meet up because you had to take your dog to the vet, send them a picture of your dog in the waiting room. If you can’t text during whatever your plans are, send them a quick message afterward — update them about your life. Not only does it calm the fear that you’re just avoiding your friend, they actually care about your life. Sending random updates isn’t a burden — that’s what friends are for, and it is nice to know that you care about finding time for them.
3. Initiate conversations.
You know that thing about always being the person to text first? Take that out of the sitcom situation and magnify the fear, and that’s what anxiety can be like. It’s a double-edged sword; on one hand, your friend with anxiety doesn’t want to bother you. On the other, they don’t want you to think that they’ve forgotten you.
4. Don’t talk about their anxiety with other people.
While you aren’t bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, you should never talk about it unless you know that they are OK with it. No matter how open they may be with you, anxiety is hard to talk about. The second it is mentioned, it feels like a chasm is growing between one person and everybody else in the room. Unless you are afraid they will hurt themselves or others, don’t bring it up until they do.
5. Give them a heads-up.
If there’s a movie they’ve mentioned or a video circulating that has a jump-scare or something that triggers them, let them know. A quick heads-up can save your friend from a horrible panic attack and lets them know that you care.
6. Don’t let their anxiety define your relationship.
Sometimes anxiety feels like drowning; your friend can feel like that’s the only thing in the world, but they are still a person. Don’t make everything about their anxiety. It is a looming aspect of life, but sometimes they need a distraction. Don’t minimize them to their mental illness; they are stronger than that, even if it doesn’t feel like that. When they are having a good day, you can be proud of them — that’s hard. But don’t make everything about their anxiety. There’s a reason you became friends. Don’t forget what brought you two together in the first place.
7. Invite them to things.
One of the worst things you could say is some variant of, “Oh, I just assumed you wouldn’t want to come.” It reminds your friend that they don’t function as well as other people. It makes them feel guilty that they can’t take part in your life. Invite them to things. It will remind them that you care about them. It reassures that this friendship is fun for you, not an obligation, even if they can’t go.
8. Tell them about what’s wrong.
Their troubles do not negate yours. Friendship is a two-way street. Don’t be afraid to tell them about how your boss made you cry yesterday, or what you think about your aunt’s new boyfriend. Believe it or not, this helps your friend. There is a constant fear that the burden of anxiety is getting transferred over to you; it’s OK to lean on their shoulder. You do the same thing for them; listening can be the best thing either of you can do for each other.
9. Validate what they’re going through.
People with anxiety are constantly bombarded with the idea that their anxiety isn’t real and that they should just get over it. When your friend is jittery for no reason, or when they’re too afraid to leave the house, or when they tell you about a worry that seems ridiculous to you, don’t laugh it away. That doesn’t help. It’s an avalanche of guilt and frustration — “Why won’t my brain let me get over it like anybody else?” Even if you don’t understand what it’s like, support them in their struggles.
10. Make sure they know you are there to help.
These are not commandments; anxiety varies from person to person. The best thing you can do for your friend is to let them know that you’re there. Don’t just tell, show. It’s hard to talk about anxiety with friends; the fear of becoming a burden is debilitating. Send them an occasional article about tips for dealing with anxiety. If they seem uncomfortable, offer to talk. Be open to suggestions on how to help, even if that suggestion is to not talk about anxiety unless prompted.
I know that it’s hard, but we are willing to return the favor — that’s what friendship is. Sometimes it’s just more complex when you have anxiety.
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Thinkstock photo via oneinchpunch