We asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us how they show support to friends and family who live with anxiety, or how friends and family have helped them through their own anxiety. Here’s what they said:
1. Learn their triggers. One of the most compassionate things my best friend did was to learn to look for “warning signs” that I was getting trapped, and ask if I was alright or needed to talk. Whether it was the way I sometimes shake my head, clench my fists, breath, or hug myself to deal with the anxiety, my friend learned to look out for what was wrong and created a space for me to share my struggles. – Elise, Facebook
2. Get permission before you touch them. If they’re freaking out, don’t touch them unless you ask and get explicit permission. Anxiety and panic attacks are often accompanied by hypersensitivity. Sometimes that hug or consoling shoulder rub just makes things twice as bad. – cberksy
3. Remove them from a stressful situation. If you’re out in public and they start feeling anxious, remove them from the situation if possible. Sometimes the atmosphere is overwhelming or creates an uncomfortable environment. Distractions also help. Whenever I start feeling anxious, I distract myself on my phone, with a game, or start talking to somebody. Even just openly talking about anxiety and panic disorders makes me feel better, and makes it feel more real…not like some scary monster. – Megan, Facebook
4. Invent a ritual. If I’m having a panic attack and my friend is not around, we text and count backwards from 100. I do the even numbers and she does the odd numbers. – majestas
5. Let it be about them. Don’t try to compare their anxiety to yours, or say “I know how you feel” if you really don’t. It may seem helpful, but it can be insulting for a person with legitimate anxiety problems to hear about how you know what they’re going through just because you also tend to get stressed out during finals. Don’t take the legitimacy out of their problem by making it about you. – Katlyn, Facebook
6. Give them an outlet. I’ve recently had some anxiety and my dear friend suggested I buy a journal and write. I’ve found that writing gets many things off your chest and it’s a creative way to vent. Whenever you start thinking about what you’re anxious about, just start writing whatever’s on your mind. – Valeria, Facebook
I did some research on ways to de-stress and calm yourself. I ended up buying her a colouring book with gel pens. She was so touched that she nearly cried. She now sends me photos of her completed masterpieces. She says it helps her. – annabelthompson
7. Let them know you still like them. Remind them that you still like them. A little text reminder like, “Hey, thought of you with X thing I saw today,” or, “Hey, excited to see you this weekend!” I go through these awful slumps where I’m like, ahh, no one likes me, I have no real friends, which is just entirely untrue, but [that’s] hard to remember when I’m in an anxiety hole. – Ashley, Facebook
8. Make plans and keep them. I have social anxiety, and the toughest part about keeping friends is the fact that it is so hard for me to initiate plans. Sometimes it is even hard to accept plans, because I always feel like I should give them an out in case they were only including me to be polite – no matter how close or how old the friendship is. So just keep inviting us. We do love you and we want to see you! – JuneBug
9. But give them an escape clause. When making or even just suggesting plans, always leave CLEAR room for an out. Now or later. Ongoing. There’s nothing better for an anxious person than knowing they can bail out of a plan without you hating them. Or them hating themselves. – Marie-Claude, Facebook
10. Walk them through a plan in advance. Panicking isn’t always visible. It can be completely in their head and to you they look like nothing is wrong. A lot of times this means that person is overwhelmed. Non-visible signs are extreme indecisiveness (when that’s normally not a problem), distracted responses, or procrastination. I find it helpful when someone else takes control of the situation and time. Say “Look, here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s the plan, step by step and here’s what’s going to happen in an hour.” And then everyone else has to be like, “Yep, sounds good, let’s go.” Then the anxious person won’t have to worry about a) the plan or b) if everyone else is happy. – Ashley, Facebook
11. Make them feel heard. Acknowledge their fears and anxiety as real things. Let them know that you hear them, and are there for them – IF they want you there. Because, for some, you being there can also be too much. – Allison, Facebook
12. Get some fresh air with them. Encourage them to take a walk outside with you. Being outside helps me remember there are bigger things than what I’m worrying about. There’s also room to run or walk off that anxious energy. – jessicab45bac3e5e
13. Just be with them, and bring their favourite things. When I have anxiety or a panic attack the only thing that helps me is a book or a funny show – people asking me questions makes me panic more because then I have to try to rationalise something that isn’t rational in the first place when responding. Ask if there is anything you can do – if they say no then go grab them a favourite book or movie and a big blanket and just be with them. – Natasha, Facebook
14. Plan ahead and text back. Those with anxiety like to know plans ahead of time so that we can mentally prepare. We don’t do well with last-minute plans. Giving us a few days to think about something is helpful. Also, don’t leave us hanging in communication. We tend to play a thousand scenarios in our head while waiting to hear back. Do us a favour and let us know you’re thinking and will get back to us. – jackiew417d8e970
15. Call them. Call them on a regular schedule for a check-in. It doesn’t have to be a long intimate conversation every time. It could be as simple as, “How was your day? How are you feeling? Have you been worrying about anything?”, and then done. – Adam, Facebook
16. And send an end-of-the-day “I love you” text. I always send an “I love you” text at the day of or the day following high anxiety. I’m currently finishing my masters in counselling, but it’s hard to separate my counselling instincts and my human instincts. I’ve learned the simple gesture to let the person experiencing anxiety know they are loved and cared for is bigger than I realize. – jordanleighj
17. Find a creative way to check in. My girlfriend and I both have anxiety at varying degrees of severity, and we use a colour chart to know how the other is doing. You can pick your own colours: For example, blacks and blues are calm for me. White is both of our’s absolute terror colour. – Jessaca, Facebook
18. Take the lead. One of the best things my family does for me is to let me take the lead. They give me space if I need it and don’t follow me around but they are always accessible, in a nearby room or keeping their phones on if I need them. When I’m feeling better, they ask me questions about why I was feeling that way, or what worked and what didn’t work. It’s such a relief that they understand that sometimes I’m not sure what will help, so they give me the chance to try different things. Sometimes less pleasantly, but just as needed, they give me a gut check on my choices. The support in my choice to go to the hospital is wonderful, but the phone call to straight up tell me I shouldn’t drive myself is just as appreciated. – erical4aa1155f8
19. Record a calming voicemail they can play any time. I’ve been struggling with some pretty severe anxiety over the past year, but my boyfriend is always there to help. He doesn’t try to fix me or my problems, but instead he’s done things like record a voicemail for me to listen to every time I feel anxious. The best thing anyone’s can do for me is help me get out of a stressful situation; take me somewhere else, even if it’s just on a little walk. – wookie3000cv
20. Help them make a plan. My best friend has super-debilitating anxiety. Whenever she calls me during attack, we focus on things we can do right that instant to help her alleviate her anxiety. Breathing exercises, grounding etc. Then, we start making a plan for the things she can do that day to make progress on whatever is stressing her out (job, relationship, money, whatever). She has to let me know whenever she completes those tasks, and when she does, we talk about how awesome she is for following through and how those tasks helped her. It’s all about celebrating little victories. – amandakelleyg2
21. Let them know you’re right there with them. I once had a panic attack during a production of Pippin in Boston — I was in the middle of the row and couldn’t very well leave. My best friend held my hand the entire time and kept checking in with me to make sure that I was OK. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me the worst part of panic attacks is feeling completely isolated and alone, which is incredibly scary, and he made sure to let me know that I wasn’t alone, which helped enormous amounts. So, long story short, if you have a friend who is having a panic attack or anxiety attack, make sure they know you’re there for them. Whether that means holding their hand (if they’re OK with it) or talking with them or just being near them, let them know they are not alone and that they don’t have to deal with this alone. – Grace, Facebook
22. Make them feel normal. I actually really want someone to completely ignore me and blabber on about their day. One of the fears of anxiety is that you’ll have some kind of public meltdown and be carted off to an asylum. So by everyone else being normal it makes you realise that you’re still “normal” – you’re just having a dread-filled moment that will pass. – TwisterTwirl
23. Make time to do nothing with them. It’s easy to become involved in your own life, but just taking the time to wander around the grocery shop together is simple and nice. – maried495087820
24. And talk about ridiculous things. Be a listening ear. Even though anxiety can make them sound like a broken record, just listening to them tell you about the things that bring on anxiety and how it affects them is helpful. Take walks with them and talk about the universe, alternate dimensions, or your plan in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Getting them out of their own head for a while is wonderfully relaxing. – castilloamanda1986
25. Help them with the little things. As a person with a relatively severe social anxiety disorder, it’s incredibly helpful for me when my friend orders my food at a restaurant. I just can’t seem to do it myself without having a panic attack. – chelleau
26. Know what makes them laugh. My roommate has horrible anxiety. Sometimes she just needs me to tell her it’s all in her head. But for the tougher times, I strongly feel that dancing to old school rap and hip-hop in our kitchen while wearing our matching Ninja Turtle pyjamas is always a solution. – c4615bf982
27. And know what makes them feel calm. Stay calm, be patient, acknowledge that the anxiety is a real thing, but reassure them that the moment will pass and that you will be there supporting them until it does. Bring up topics that you know are calming for the person (for my husband, it’s our cat), remind them to breathe. If it’s a close friend or partner, you can hold their hand or rub their arm or leg. Just keep them aware and in the moment. The person knows objectively what’s happening and knows that the anxiety will fade, but that doesn’t make it any more intense. It’s not helpful to try to convince them that they can “snap out of it” or that “everything’s fine”. – salliem418a11a55
28. Call up good memories. My girlfriend would bring up a happy memory we had together and instead of just talking about it outright she would leave out certain details and get me to fill them in. As a result I would focus more on the details and fill in the story, not even realizing my anxiety had left me. – kadijak2
29. Never underestimate a good cup of tea. My best friend is amazing during my panic attacks. She reminds me to breathe, and breathes with me until I calm. She rubs circles on my back, she whispers slowly and gently when she talks to me because she knows noise aggravates me. She reminds me of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve overcome, and how much I have to live for. Most importantly as I calm, she makes me a comforting tea and wraps me in a blanket as I recover, and then we talk about silly stuff. She never makes me feel judged, she never rushes me, she remains calm when I can’t be. She is amazing! – sarahk4c5a41967
30. Or a great soundtrack. Also good to establish protocol ahead of time. When I have severe anxiety/panic attacks, my husband knows the exact four songs I have saved on my phone that help calm me down, and we sort of have a signal. I just say “music” (sometimes I just point to the phone if I’m hyperventilating) at the beginning of/during any attack and he’ll queue them up and start the playlist for me, all the while being there but staying silent unless I need and ask him to do otherwise. – beccajacksond
31. Bring the fun to them. Understand that sometimes they may not be able to go out, and be willing to make allowances. Take a bottle of wine and a DVD to their home, make cocktails in the kitchen, have a baking day or just a cup of coffee and a chat. If they aren’t up to leaving, bring the fun to them – just because they are uncomfortable in spaces doesn’t mean they don’t want to enjoy themselves. Also understand they may seem clingy if they are particularly anxious – it’s probably just because they always expect worst-case scenario. Be patient and perhaps text or call them a little more than usual just to reassure them. – b43a334223
32. Make them feel safe. When I first was realising I had social anxiety I was at a huge party. I ended up sitting in the bathroom around the entire time. My friend periodically came in to check on me, give me food, and made sure no one judged me. After that she was always putting my needs before her own. That’s a good friend. – toomanysmarfs
33. Stick with them. Don’t abandon them. With my anxiety, a lot of people I thought were my friends stopped asking me do to things with them, and that hurt so much. Be a true friend and hold their hand – physically, metaphorically, or both. – google4f9475022
34. Listen. Just listen. That’s the best you can do for anyone who is struggling with anxiety. Listen to what they’re telling you, believe them, and do not blame yourself. When I’m at my most anxious, I want to be alone. It’s difficult to explain to someone you love that you want them to go away. It’s not because I don’t want to be around the person or because they did something wrong — but it feels that way to them! I just want to be alone, that’s all, no hidden meanings or ulterior motives behind it. – Julie, Facebook
35. Be the person they want to talk to about their anxiety. I’ve had anxiety for many years and the best thing someone can do to help people with anxiety is be there and support them no matter what. Help them work on ways to cope that you can practise together. Be the person they want to talk to about their anxiety. – adrianneb4619c2adf
36. And always, always, ask. Never assume anything – don’t assume they need a hug, because they might want space, and don’t assume they want to be left alone, because maybe they would like some company. Ask what you can do and what you shouldn’t do when they are going through an attack, for example. You can always offer a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, an honest opinion, breathing with them… But really, it all melts down to ask, and actually listen. – Michaela, Facebook
Contributions have been edited for length and clarity.
BuzzFeed articles are for general informational purposes only. Anxiety affects different people in different ways; please speak directly with your friends who face anxiety about what you can do for them.
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