Recently, I’ve had to support a few friends and family members going through anxiety or other challenges.
And some people have also come up to me to ask how to support their friends going through anxiety.
With at least 1 in 4 people going through some kind of mental health challenge, I’m sure the majority of you are facing or will face having to support someone with anxiety.
1. Empathise with them
Think back to the last time you were going through anxiety. How would you have liked to be helped?
You probably would want to spend time with someone calm until the anxiety passed.
Here’s where you can use mindfulness and kindfulness skills if you’ve done some training. You can mindfully breathe as you’re listening. If walking with them, you can do some mindful walking together.
Above all, whatever your training, be kind and non-judgmental.
Let them know that the feelings will pass, and you’re there for them.
2. Ease off on pressure
By staying calm and listening to them, you’re not putting any pressure on them. You may be tempted to help them face their fears and find solutions, but this can be very stressful for someone who’s not ready for that yet.
Try some mindful breathing or other calming exercises yourself, whilst you’re with them, to help you remain centred and peaceful.
Remember, by just listening you're giving them one of the greatest gifts.
3. Ask how you can help
Ask them how you can help. Maybe they know about mindfulness, breathing exercises or the value of distracting themselves temporarily.
You could show them this page on self-care for anxiety and see if they want to try any of them, or if you can help them to practice one of them.
4. Learn about anxiety
You may benefit from learning a bit more about anxiety. You’ll then understand better how to help. Check out these guides from Anxiety UK.
By understanding what anxiety is, you’re better able to empathise and listen. You can also offer better tips if they ask you for advice.
5. Encourage them to seek help
If the anxiety is becoming a problem, recommend they visit their doctor, or a support group like Anxiety UK or No Panic. You could even help them to book an appointment, go along with them or explore sources of support together.
There is great power in working with a group, if they are up for it. For example, in Buddhist philosophy, this is called Sangha and a core part of the path.
6. Look after yourself
Supporting others can be stressful. Take care of your own well being by exercising, sleeping, spending time with others, eating well and doing things that you enjoy. Meditation is always a great help if you enjoy that, too.
SHUSH! How to Listen When Someone is Anxious
The Samaritans offer great tips when it comes to listening. They have based these tips on 60 years of expertise on listening with a volunteer force of 20,000 people.
Use these SHUSH tips
Show you care - Look at your friend in the eye and put away your phone.
Have patience - It’ll take time for your friend to share.
Use open questions - Use questions that don’t have a yes/no answer. Or simply say ‘tell me more’
Say it back - Check you’ve understood what they’ve said, without offering solutions.
Have courage - Most importantly, have the courage to be with the silence. Don’t be put off by a negative response.
When helping someone with anxiety, be compassionate by imagining what it was like the last time you were anxious. Listen with kindness and without judgment. And remember to look after yourself too.
By practising mindfulness (and kindfulness) yourself, you’ll have a positive impact on whoever you’re helping because of your naturally increased presence and calmness.
Your mindfulness practice will also help to renew yourself, so it’s a great way to look after yourself too.