One of the best ways to help a friend with anxiety would be to understand and recognise the condition and the severity in which it can affect a person’s life.
Anxiety is a widely acknowledged feeling of fear or uneasiness that can occur during stressful situations, such as job interviews or first dates. Feeling anxious is a normal emotion that most people will experience during their lifetimes. However, when this feeling becomes overwhelming and out of control to the point of it being an everyday experience that affects your day-to-day life, you may be diagnosed as having Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
GAD is a long-term disorder which can affect you physically as well as mentally. For example, people with anxiety can have trouble concentrating on activities, become restless and have trouble sleeping. This can escalate to dizziness and heart palpitations; which is the feeling of having a pounding or fast racing heartbeat which (although it is harmless) can be a very uncomfortable experience. Anxiety can also be a strong symptom in various other mental health conditions, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety, Phobias and Panic Disorders.
Spotting signs of anxiety in friends or loved ones can be tricky at times, as it can be a very subtle mental health disorder and difficult to sense unless the person is open about it. However, fear not, there are a few tell-tale signs that could suggest your loved one is struggling:
- You may not realise it, but details can be very reassuring to somebody with anxiety. Anxiety generally involves a lot of overthinking, and details can take away the scary “what if’s” of a situation. This can be shown through constantly re-affirming the exact plans of a day out, or triple checking their money before reaching the counter at a shop.
- Once again, overthinking comes into it. Your friend may struggle with making decisions due to contemplating every possible outcome.
- Fight or Flight. This sign can go one of two ways. Anxiety can make a person feel the need to make themselves safe. To do this, they may either retreat from a situation that makes them uncomfortable or become angry and irritable. This may look like aggression, but it comes from a need to feel safe.
- A person suffering from GAD may need a lot of reassurance, the same as anyone else would before an interview or a date. Anxiety can create a lot of “what if’s”, and so your friend or loved one may seek frequent reassurance as, to them, the world may seem too heavy to handle right now.
- Difficulty Sleeping. This is probably one of the more noticeable symptoms. If you notice your friend or loved one is looking a little more sleep deprived than usual, it may not be for lack of trying. A person suffering from anxiety can lay in bed for hours, unable to sleep due to thoughts racing through their head. This can lead to insomnia.
Understanding and recognising what anxiety is can be one of the most important first steps in helping a friend suffering from GAD. Nevertheless, there are several other ways you can help your friend or loved one cope with their anxiety. One of the most predominant symptoms of anxiety would be overthinking. If you notice your friend or loved one overthinking more than usual, especially over the little things, one of the best things you can do is simply listen and help them try to rationalise the situation. For example, they may have overthought about attending a job interview and about being judged by the interviewer, it may be useful for them to be reminded that it is simply a formal conversation to see if they are suitable for the job. This can help them to rationalise their thoughts and lower their anxiety.
Grounding is another excellent technique used to help people who are experiencing high levels of anxiety. When in a situation that increases levels of anxiety, a person with GAD may begin to feel dizzy or overwhelmed. Grounding is used to keep a person in the present and can be great for managing feelings of being overwhelmed or panic. It is done by focusing on certain aspects of the environment around you to bring yourself out of yourself a little. For example, if your friend is in a waiting room at the hospital and you notice them becoming anxious, you ask them to count all the pieces of furniture that have four legs, or how many photos there are on the wall. This small but effective technique can remind a person that they are in the present and that everything is okay.
Offering support to a friend or loved one with GAD can be both helpful and detrimental to their process. It can help, as your companion will trust you and ultimately feel less anxious in your presence as well as possibly learning from your example. An example of this would be if your friend finds making phone calls stressful. You may make the phone call for them and, after witnessing this and seeing no bad effect, they may feel more able to make the next call themselves. However, it is important to remember that if you offer too much support then they may never push through their avoidance and this can just enable their anxiety.
One of the most important things to remember would be that the person is not the condition. It is very easy to want to help so much that you accidentally neglect the person beneath the mental health condition. Reminding them that anxiety is not all that they are can be very beneficial considering it is such a mentally overwhelming disorder. If your relationship with them suddenly becomes all about their anxiety and the ways you plan to ‘fix’ them, it can make the person feel even more alienated despite your initial intention. Encouraging them to do other things they enjoy, such as exercising or socialising or picking up a new hobby, can help distract them from the anxiety and create a fun activity for you both outside of the subject of mental health.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder can be hard for the person suffering from the mental health condition, but through being by their side and offering your support as a friend, family member, or loved one, you can make a massive difference to their quality of life. The most important thing to remember is that, if you are unsure how to help, it is okay to ask. GAD affects everybody differently, but sometimes simply asking how you can help or offering a hug can make all the difference.
For more information about anxiety, you can read our previous article on the subject or consider reading one of these useful articles:
- NHS – Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- The Subtle Signs That Someone Might Be Struggling With Anxiety
- Seven Ways to Help Someone with Anxiety
- Tips for Supporting Someone with Anxiety
- Mental Health Anxiety
Cover image courtesy of: