How to Help a Friend Dealing With Anxiety

It's important to learn the symptoms of anxiety and to validate your friend's feelings.

How to Help a Friend Dealing With Anxiety

Have you noticed a friend acting nervous lately? Or maybe they seem a little on edge. You may be seeing signs of anxiety in your friend. General anxiety disorder affects 6.8 million adults in a year, and women are twice as likely to experience it, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

If you suspect your friend or a loved one is experiencing anxiety, you can help them.

Watch for these symptoms:

  • Feeling nervous, irritable, or on edge
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems

Dr. Zelana Montminy, a behavioral scientist who focuses on positivity, said learning these signs is a good way to understand what your friend is going through.

"It shows that you want to help, and it's so important that we get the help that we need from others and the support," she said.

Common Ways You May See Your Friend's Anxiety

Montminy described how those symptoms may appear when you're out with your friend.

"People with anxiety often have thought patterns. ... You have a friend or a family member who is always believing that the worst will happen, or is persistently worrying, or has this all-or-nothing thinking pattern that's very black and white, makes a lot of overall assumptions based on one single event, but really thinks it's a pervasive issue. If you ask them out to dinner, and they never want to go to this specific spot, or they're constantly seeking reassurance, second-guessing themselves, can be irritable or frustrated a lot — that's anxiety. Someone who's an extreme perfectionist — that's anxiety," she said.

How to Help

It's important to show compassion to your friend, Montminy said, and to learn what they need.

"Be really honest in these relationships, and say, 'Listen, I noticed x, y, and z. That must not feel good. How can I help you?' That can be really helpful in providing validation to their experience. It's critical," she said. "As a friend, as a loved one, the best thing we can do is to validate their experience."

This validation and show of concern are two of the biggest impacts you can have on your friend. On the other hand, it's extremely important to know what's not helpful.

"What not to say is something like, 'Hey, I can't believe you're getting upset over something. This seems like such a small thing.' That belittles their experience, and what's small to you might be really, really big for them. So expressing understanding is really, really important," Montminy explained.

When Your Friend Should See a Doctor

Is your friend's anxiety affecting their everyday life or disrupting their ability to work, go to school or manage their home life? Encourage them to see a doctor or therapist.

If you or someone you know needs to talk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a 24/7 resource center that provides dedicated support. You can talk with a counselor on the phone or chat online. You'll find tips for talking with your loved one about their feelings, crisis signs to watch for if the person is thinking about suicide and ways to improve your listening skills to offer the best possible support for your friend.

Your loved one can also talk with a Lifeline counselor about finding a therapist to talk to, building a support network and making a safety plan for if they ever find themselves in a crisis situation.

For more mental health resources, Dr. Oz has them here.

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