seven things to do when your friend has an anxiety disorder


This is my first post of 2014 – and I’m really sorry about that!  It’s almost March! I’m terrible.

This blog post was inspired by a chain of facebook comments on a post linking to this Huffington Post article. Someone commented and basically said that they thought an article about seven things you SHOULD tell people who are experiencing anxiety would be helpful for those people who don’t know what to say or do.

I took it upon myself to write a blog post about their idea, since I have a lot of personal experience with anxiety and I know some things people can or have said that help me personally when I’m dealing with anxiety. I have severe social anxiety which I am actually on SSI for, because my anxiety is too severe for me to work (and sometimes leave my home). I’ve had countless panic attacks because of being in public, and in times when my anxiety hasn’t been so bad I’ve still felt anxious and panicked slightly over trivial things. This won’t be an extensive list of every good thing you can say, because there are a lot more than seven examples and I mostly experience social anxiety and some phobias, while there are other kinds of anxiety I don’t fully understand. Feel free to leave a comment with your own ideas for things to say if you have an anxiety disorder!!

This post, however, is mostly for the people who just don’t know what to do in these situations. They don’t teach this kind of thing in health class (although perhaps they should). So here’s my list, in no particular order!

  1. Ask, “would it be helpful if I hugged you or held your hand?” some people with anxiety disorders, especially kinds of anxiety other than social anxiety can often find gentle and friendly physical contact comforting – but never assume. Always make sure they’re comfortable with it before you touch them. Sometimes, for certain people, being touched even briefly by someone they know well can be incredibly upsetting and make the anxiety feel much worse much faster.
  2. Ask, “would you like me to get you some water?” often having something to sip on or even a cup to hold can be helpful, if they aren’t shaking too much. Also, staying hydrated is important.
  3. Get stress balls, spinner rings, and other pocket-sized things to play with, carry them with you, and maybe give them as small gifts to your friends with anxiety, or suggest that they get some themselves. Having something to do with your hands can help with anxiety a lot, especially when symptoms of anxiety include trichotillomania or dermatillomania, for example, which is the case for many people.
  4. Remind them to breathe, deep and slowly. It’s just science. When you breathe more slowly, your heart rate slows down too, and you calm down. Really though, don’t tell them what to do in general – they know what feels the least anxiety-inducing, and aside from a few tricks like breathing slowly, you can’t know what will help unless you’re experiencing it. 
  5. If they have asthma, make sure they have their inhaler nearby at all times. Especially in stressful situations, either an asthma attack or a panic attack/similar anxiety symptoms can occur and then lead to the other starting up as well. They can often keep making each other worse, so make sure they use their inhaler if they experience asthma symptoms and in both situations remember #4.
  6. Ask them if they want you to leave, or if they’d rather you stay with them. Different people have different preferences, sometimes at different times. Both being alone or not being able to be alone, depending on the situation, can make anxiety worse.
  7. Take their anxiety seriously. This is a really important one. It is a mental illness that they have at best not full control over and possibly no control over at all. A lot of people learn to use coping techniques that work for them, take prescription medications for anxiety (such as xanax), attend regular therapy, or use other methods to cope. You have to take their illness seriously, since that is what it is – an illness. It is real and it is difficult to live with. Respect their boundaries and what they need, and try your best to be supportive in a genuine way (which also means it is definitely not the right time for sarcasm). 

Well, that’s all for today – I’d like to start posting more in 2014 though, we’ll see how that goes! Hopefully this post was helpful and possibly informative.


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