Anxiety is common for many of us — and most of us will experience it on some level in our lives. In the last year, the changes and uncertainties presented by COVID-19 have also caused a great deal of us to experience heightened levels of anxiety.
In short, anxiety is our hardwired system designed by evolution to warn us when we might be in danger. While this is meant to help us in harmful situations, sometimes this system can get worked into overdrive, making our fears difficult to manage. When this happens, anxiety can become debilitating and this can make it challenging to deal with everyday life.
Because anxiety is an internal feeling, it can sometimes be hard to recognize when a friend or loved one is suffering from symptoms. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the signs to look for if you think a friend is dealing with anxiety. We’ll then review some of the best ways you can provide them with support.
Learn to Recognize the Signs of Anxiety
While some signs can be obvious, others might be more subtle and more difficult to detect. Some of the most common signs a friend is suffering from anxiety may include:
• An excessive need for details (eg. they require great explanations behind an event, a decision or a change in plans)
• Difficulty making decisions
• Reluctance to meet new people, try something new or even leave their home to participate in a social activity
• Signs of anger, aggression, hostility or irritability
• A lack of interest or indifference in activities they usually enjoy
• A constant need for reassurance
• A trend in always believing worst-case scenarios
What Not to Do
Some things you may not want to do around a friend who’s dealing with anxiety symptoms include:
Enabling occurs when someone suffering from anxiety asks another person (such as a friend, family member or partner) to do (or not do) something that they believe will help reduce their anxiety or make them feel better. For example, you might have a friend who gets anxious when making a phone call or ordering at a restaurant and to remedy their symptoms, they might ask you to do it for them.
While accommodating an anxious friend’s fears might seem like a kind gesture, this can cause them to rely on you each time the same situation occurs — which may result in their anxiety worsening or persisting. It’s important to remember that while it’s normal to want to help your friend avoid feeling upset, this won’t provide them with the necessary strength to overcome their fears and gain better control over their anxiety.
While it isn’t helpful to enable an anxious friend’s unhealthy habits, it’s also equally harmful to force them to do something that triggers their anxiety. Overcoming anxiety is often a slow, gradual process that simply isn’t achieved by just jumping into a scary situation.
While support from friends is certainly positive enforcement, the best way for someone to gain control over their anxiety is by working alongside a licenced professional who is certified in psychotherapy.
Give Up Hope
If you’re someone on the outside looking in on someone who is experiencing anxiety, it can sometimes be confusing, exhausting and frustrating to keep up with them. If you have a friend who is dealing with anxiety, they may do things such as overanalyze every situation, express fears that sound irrational or be reluctant to participate in everyday activities. They might also suffer from depression, low self-esteem or be especially hard on themselves — which can be difficult to witness.
As a friend, the last thing you should do is give up hope. It’s important to remind yourself that while anxiety is common, it can have incredibly detrimental effects on the brain and cause people to experience a wide range of highs and lows. Continuing to check in on your friend (whether it’s calling them, messaging them or seeing them in-person) and reminding them of your support will go a long way in pushing them towards recovery.
What You Can Do
On the flip side, here are some things you can do to support a friend who is dealing with anxiety:
There are hundreds of things that can trigger anxiety in an individual — which means that just because someone might be afraid of something you don’t understand, doesn’t mean that their fears don’t feel very real to them. Comments such as “I don’t know why you’re so afraid of that, it’s no big deal” can feel belittling and dismissive to someone experiencing anxiety. This can also cause an anxious person to feel worse about their thoughts and therefore exacerbate their symptoms.
Instead, showing empathy and understanding towards a friend’s anxious thoughts is a great way to offer support when they’re going through a difficult situation. While their anxiety might not make sense to you, it’s important to let your friend know that you recognize the realness of their feelings.
While you may not have the expertise or credentials to completely help a friend overcome anxiety, this should never mean you can’t express concern for them. If you start to notice your friend’s behaviour change or if they noticeably start withdrawing from activities they usually enjoy, this may be a signal to let them know you care and want to make sure they’re doing okay.
Anxiety symptoms can often be difficult to articulate or talk about, especially when someone feels like their feelings might not be believed or supported. By telling a friend that you’ve noticed something is up and that you’re there for support if they need it, this can go a long way in helping them feel validated.
Take Care of Yourself, Too
As we mentioned, supporting a friend or loved one who is suffering from anxiety can be tough. While it’s important to be a support system to a friend in need, it’s also equally critical to be easy on yourself and not do anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.
Anxiety often requires specialized treatment from a therapist who can offer professional guidance. If you’re supporting a friend as they overcome crippling anxiety, you should remember to maintain your energy and also make time for your own interests and personal needs.
Contact Integra Health Centre Today
What is psychotherapy? It’s a professional service designed to help patients manage stress, anxiety and increase their happiness, motivation, coping habits and more. Overall, it can help patients create the right tools needed to lead a better, more successful lifestyle.
Integra Health Centre provides psychotherapy services with a team of specially trained and registered therapists who are experienced with helping patients overcome their challenges.
We have two locations downtown Toronto and are also providing our services virtually to anyone in Ontario during COVID-19.
To book an appointment with our registered team, contact us today. Our team is ready to help!