September 26, 2022
Helping a friend with anxiety

If you’ve got a friend who’s currently dealing with anxiety, here’s how you can be a positive resource for their mental health situation. 

Helping a friend with anxiety

Dealing with anxiety is tough enough on its own. Helping a friend with anxiety can be even harder. After all, you might know how you approach stressful situations, but adapting to how someone else deals with them can be a challenging and frustrating experience. 

If you’ve got a friend who’s currently dealing with anxiety, here’s how you can be a positive resource for their mental health situation. 

First, assign positive intent 

When helping a friend with anxiety, it’s important to start by “assigning positive intent” to their actions. By assigning positive intent, we mean ascribing good intentions to any anxiety-induced behaviors that might not appear healthy or helpful at first. 

For example, let’s say one of the reasons you want to help your friend with their anxiety is because you think the way they deal with social situations annoying. For instance, maybe they “freaked out” at you at a party. They didn’t know anyone, got uncomfortable and yelled at you in the car for not hanging out with them enough. Under normal circumstances, you’d be pretty upset, right?

This time, try assigning positive intent to your friend’s behaviors. Maybe they got upset with you, but understand that that fear was coming from a genuine desire to have a good time. Maybe they wanted to be carefree and fun at a party, but when that didn’t happen — and when they didn’t have you to hang out with and help reduce their anxiety — they got scared, worried and sad, and that caused them to lash out. 

Seeing the positive intent in your friend’s actions (and accepting that intent without any judgment) will help you have more compassion for their situation. Once you have compassion for them, you’ll be better poised to help them.   

Next, assume positive intent

We talked about assigning positive intent. Now let’s talk about assuming positive intent. The two are similar, but there’s a few key differences. When helping a friend with anxiety, assuming positive intent means we need to shut off our internal dialogue and really listen to others.   

When you meet up with your anxious friend, what do you usually think about them? Do you think about how anxious and easily shaken they are? If so, it’s time to put those thoughts to rest. Suspending any negative thoughts you have about your friend’s mental health will help you understand them better, and understanding them better will help you serve them better. 

Ask your friend what they need

Sometimes, your friend simply needs someone to sit with them when they’re experiencing anxiety. Other times, they want to vent about what’s making them nervous. And still other times they want advice about the situation they’re in. 

The thing is, you won’t know until you ask. Asking your friend how to help them deal with their anxiety is the best way to provide real results.

Don’t expect anxiety to look the same each time

Different people experience anxiety differently. For some, it looks like hyperactivity. Other people get sleepy and disengaged. Some get agitated, others can’t concentrate, and some people feel irritable. 

Depending on your friend, they might experience anxiety in a wholly different way than you do. Let them talk about what they’re currently experiencing without judgment and you’ll find they’ll feel much more comfortable around you. 

Keep your own agreements (instead of boundaries) 

Boundaries are problematic. We’re taught to believe that boundaries are rules we create in our heads to make sure other people don’t violate our space, energy or time, but they’re not. 

In truth, boundaries are ways of putting energy and attention toward how we don’t want to be treated. Instead of thinking about how you don’t want to be treated, why not think of how you DO want to be treated? For the sake of this article, we’ll call these “agreements.” 

When it comes to helping a friend with anxiety, try making agreements with them. Tell them that they can exhibit their anxiety in any way that they need to, but make an agreement that you’re not going to stop your life and put things on hold for them. Do what you want to do while letting your friend know they can trust you to still be a resource to them. 

When they ask for more than you can give, tell them so. “I’d love to help you, but I can’t talk right now. Let’s figure out a time when I have more energy and time to meet your needs.”

Point them toward resources they can use 

Lastly, it’s always good to point your friend toward resources they can use to mitigate their anxiety. For some, that means finding a therapist. For others, medication helps. Some people use both. There’s also coaching, journaling and countless other online resources to choose from.

The bottom line: anxiety gets better 

Anxiety is like a wave. It passes. Riding that wave alongside your friend is a kind and noble thing to do — and with these tips, you’ll be sure to make their experience with anxiety far more manageable than it was before.

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