Anxiety is not an unknown enemy. As a matter of fact, it presents itself as a relatively common occurrence amongst young people, with recent studies suggesting that 1 in 6 young people deal with some form of anxiety, varying from social anxiety to OCD. While it does manifest itself in a variety of ways, it’s important to remember that you can manage it, especially with help from friends. Even if you don't have to live with anxiety, you should learn about it. It's super important to know how to help out a friend with with anxiety.
Your friend didn't choose this.
Before anything, it’s critical to keep in mind that nobody chooses to be anxious or to have anxiety. Your friend is not being dramatic. They're not making it up, and no, it's not the same as stress. SO, never tell them to cut it out or stop overreacting. It's not helpful to blame them or make it seem like it’s their responsibility to not be anxious.
They’re still just as capable.
Anxiety doesn’t mean a person is suddenly unable to function or work. They are still just as capable as they always have been, with some differences. It is important to keep in mind that encouragement is a lot more useful in getting tasks done, rather than assuming they aren’t able to manage it on their own. It’s always useful to talk with your friend about reassuring words and actions that might encourage and/or help them through their anxiety, such as: giving them space, offering company during a stressful task, or helping achieve the goal they’ve set out for themselves. By helping them through it, you’re offering the support they might need, and also reassuring them that they’re capable of doing what they set their mind to.
Anxiety attacks aren’t the end of the world, but they sure feel like it.
Anxiety attacks are usually strange and new to third parties; many don’t know what to do or feel it might just be for show. It’s important to keep in mind that anxiety attacks are a strong reaction of fight or flight, where a person feels threatened or overwhelmed in some way. Your friend’s experience is valid, and the best help is offered when they can be guided through and away from the scene in order to get fresh air. Always ask your friend if panic attacks are a common occurrence, and how they feel it best to handle the situation. In cases when you’re unsure how to help, remember that breathing is key.
Here are some tips to help during an anxiety attack:
Breathe deeply along with them, so they can regulate their breath and calm their fight or flight response.
Talk them through what they’re thinking and/or saying, the situation is not bigger than their health.
Get your friend some water, and take them to fresh air.
Don’t pressure them to talk.
Don’t leave them alone (unless they specifically ask for it!
You can read more information and find out how to help a friend who's having an anxiety attack.
Reassurance is key.
Regardless of what is causing your friend’s anxiety, reassurance is always a good thing. A lot of times, with the amount and speed of the thoughts in our head, it gets difficult to keep track of what’s being imagined and what’s the reality. Being reassured that things will be alright and that they’re capable of anything (yes, even that thing that’s scary as hell) is an amazing gift.
Sometimes, all we need is a friend...
...and sometimes, that’s the best medicine a friend could ask for. Of course, it’s never about taking responsibility for somebody else. However, being present and staying present with your friend can be a big deal, especially when they’re dealing with a lot. It’s never about being overly concerned with tactical things to know and do, but rather, being empathetic and just being there to give a hug and say “I got you.”
If you or your friend is ever in crisis you can call the suicide hotline: Línea PAS: 1-800-981-0023
Free anxiety attack helplines and resources that are available include:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000
- Teen Line: 1-310-855-HOPE (4673) or 1-800-TLC-TEEN (852-8336) - (The service is also available by texting “TEEN” to 839863, as well as via email and message boards.)