How To Help A Friend With Anxiety

Your bestie is dealing with some issues right now. We sought the help of a CBT Therapist to find out how you can support her.

Girl with anxiety

Whether it’s generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks or agoraphobia, helping a friend who’s dealing with one of the most common mental health issues in Ireland can seem like a tricky business.

You want to do your best to understand and comfort her, and you certainly don’t want to say or do the wrong thing.

So how can you look out for a mate who’s dealing with anxiety?

CBT therapist, Mindfulness Teacher and Life Coach Martha Ryan shared this advice.

1. Be firm with the problem but kind to the person

“This means don’t collude with the anxiety,” says Martha. “So if a person believes they can’t cope with a situation, don’t reinforce that idea by saying ‘yeah, don’t do it because you wouldn’t cope with that!’. Instead support the person by saying something truthful like ‘I know it seems daunting now, but you have managed in other situations and have done well. I’m here for you if you decide to do it or not’.

“A supportive stance like that can be very assuring to the person whose emotion is in the driving seat and they believe things to be more fearful than they actually are,” Martha explains.

2. Remind the person to slow down

“No one likes to be told to relax as it is a demand that the person might not be able to achieve there and then,” says Martha. “When we are anxious everything speeds up; heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and thoughts. By taking three deep breaths, the body naturally starts to slow down and the person can cope better with their anxiety.” In other words, allow your friend some space to take deep breaths until the feeling of panic subsides.

3. No post-mortems!

While us girls love a good debrief after a date, doing the same after your mate’s had a panic attack might not be so helpful. “After an anxiety attack people tend to pick apart the situation with a negative bias to all that went wrong or was difficult,” Martha explains. “A more effective approach is to gently reflect and journal in a balanced way, so encourage your pal to write down when they were anxious, what they thought would happen, what actually happened and how they coped. This is a lovely exercise as the person can start to see that the anxiety exaggerates things and actually that they coped a lot better than they give themselves credit for.”

4. Help them to help themselves

“If your pal is experiencing anxiety very frequently and the intensity is very uncomfortable for them, it’s nice to suggest to them that there are lots of great services to help a person overcome anxiety from self help books, articles like this or 1:1 therapy,” suggest Martha.

Bottom line? Just let your friend know that you’re there for them. Small things like checking in with them regularly can make a big difference. That extra little bit of support can make anxiety feel a bit more manageable.