Everyone dreams of having a best friend; the person you can think of when you read those cheesy friendship quotes or hilarious memes on Instagram. I was lucky enough to grow up within walking distance from mine. She is there in almost every childhood memory. We went through all the awkward stages of elementary and middle school together, and we were ready to tackle high school together as well. Unfortunately, halfway through grade 9, her family decided to move. It took a few weeks to sink in and I hardly remember the moving day because it didn’t feel real that my best friend was going away.
I remember the first phone call I got from her after she moved. I expected to hear her excited voice telling me all about her new school, and the amazing people she met. Instead, the first thing I heard was crying. For a few minutes, she couldn’t stop crying long enough to get any words out. I panicked because this was the last reaction I was expecting. I knew she had been anxious about her first day but I did not think it would have been this serious.
I didn’t know it at the time but she was having a serious anxiety attack on the other end of the line. It was really hard for me because it hurt hearing her so upset. She said she hated her new school and was sure that nobody would ever like her there. I didn’t understand the reasoning because it had only been one day, but I knew that whatever I was saying was not getting through to her. Every time I would say “It’s going to be okay,” she would reply with “No it’s not, it will never be okay.” That phone call was one of the hardest phone calls I’ve had in my entire life because deep down, I knew she was hurting and I didn’t know how to help her.
That day was 7 years ago. Since then, my best friend has been professionally diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. We have been through many highs and lows associated with the diagnosis. I have received countless late night panicked texts and phone calls. The anxiety plummets her self-confidence and often causes her to think she’s not worthy enough to achieve success. However, it has also made her a stronger person because she continues to fight each and every day. Even though I still live hours away from her, I’ve become her accomplice. I am on this roller coaster with her and over the years, I’ve learned several things that I would like to share:
How You Can Help Someone Who Has Anxiety
1. Educate Yourself
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by intense worry with three or more associated physical symptoms which persist for at least six months. Physical symptoms include nausea, sleep difficulties, feeling out of breath, headaches, etc. People with GAD find it difficult to control their stress and often fear the worst in most situation. Sometimes, just the thought of getting through the day feels like an intense challenge. It is important to look for constant unnecessary self-doubt in the person you suspect might have GAD. However, every person is different so the more knowledge you have about the condition, the better support you can provide.
2. Be Supportive
Ask them how you can help instead of assuming what is best for them. It helps a lot if they know that they have someone who they can talk to without worrying about being judged. Showing genuine care is important. When my best friend first told me about her diagnosis, I told her I was proud that she was brave enough to seek professional help. I reassured her that I would be there for her if she ever needed to talk about therapy and the coping strategies she learns through it.
3. Be Patient
During an anxiety attack, the person has fears that may not make sense to you. Telling them to “get over it” will not help the situation. You have to remain calm and help the person work through their thoughts. Sometimes, it is important to just listen. We may think it’s not helpful but it could be all the person needs in that moment. There are times when I avoid giving her advice and stick to letting her know that I can understand why she feels the way she does. She has told me she appreciates these moments a lot.
4. Stay Positive
Often times, people with anxiety have a tendency to only see the worst-case scenario. Before a test, my best friend would often be convinced she was going to fail even if she studied hard. I would encourage her to focus on the things she could control such as her study schedule rather than waste her precious time thinking about things out of her control. I would remind her that I believed in her abilities and she needed to do the same. If your friend is in a similar situation, you can help guide them to think positively and reassure them that they are strong enough to overcome any difficulties they are worried about.
5. Take Care of Yourself
I used to often worry that I wasn’t providing the best support I could. Whenever I would try to help her, I felt that I wasn’t getting through to her. I would feel like I had failed her if I didn’t respond to her texts right away or missed her calls. It was hard to know if I was saying the right things and I often feared that I was making it worse. I had to remind myself countless times that I am not a professional and there is also no way for me to cure my best friend. I can simply do my best each and every day and believe that it is enough.
The best thing you can do as a loved one is to be there for the person. Each victory, no matter how small it may seem, is significant so it’s important to remember that your contribution is making a difference. Remember that sometimes listening is more helpful than talking and never lose yourself in the process. Anxiety is an uphill battle but it is not an impossible one. It may not be your fight directly, but your help can make a valuable difference.