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How To Help Your Friend Deal With Anxiety

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Maybe you’ve noticed changes in your friend. They’ve stopped doing things that they used to enjoy or started to fail at things they used to excel in. Their whole demeanor has changed. You want to help them, but you don’t know where to start.

I recently had an experience with this when one of my close friends took her life. She felt as though she didn’t have anybody that she could depend on or talk to when she needed them the most. Not only is it hard to grasp, but you blame yourself and it makes you close yourself off from other people who care about you. It changed how I looked at relationships with other people and friends. I took my anger out on those who genuinely cared about me. Losing a friend was very difficult, especially for those who were close to her.

How could I have not known? What could I have done differently? Could I have helped? These are questions that constantly run through your mind — all while you find different ways to blame yourself for the damage that was done.

It is possible that your friend is struggling with anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, being nervous or uneasy about a certain event or not knowing the possible outcome, as is common in teenagers and young adults. The National Institute of Mental Health reports: “Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem, before taking a test, or making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.”

In the United States, anxiety is also the most common form of mental illness, surpassing depression. Approximately 31 percent of teens suffer from different anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is a disorder that can make you separate yourself from others, which can interfere with day-to-day activities. Every person who has the disorder is different, has different needs, and all people cannot be helped the same. Some people are eager to open up about their experiences, and others are harder to get to know.

Anxiety can control your way of thinking and can cause your mind to develop different yet negative thinking patterns. These newly developed thinking patterns can ultimately make it harder to control anxiety because it takes a toll on the ability to think positively.

It starts with thinking, then it moves to symptoms — ones that are far more advanced than cold sweats and shaking. Not only do the symptoms progress, but the longer you live with anxiety, the more symptoms you’re prone to come into contact with.

Anxiety is not a disorder you have to live with for the rest of your life. Anxiety is treatable when given the proper resources, like physicians or therapists to help you. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another resourceful tool you can use to help manage anxiety. CBT can help people by teaching them new ways of thinking and learn coping mechanisms that can better help contain anxiety in situations. These coping mechanisms are as easy as just having somebody to talk to whenever you’re feeling angsty.

Anxiety can cause changes in patterns, which can ultimately play a huge role in behavior problems that can take a turn for the worst. All it takes is one text or one phone call to reach out to the people you love before it’s all too late. You can help them in ways you wouldn’t even know.

How to Help Your Friend With Anxiety

  • Be supportive, friendly and welcoming. Let them know you’re here to listen and you support them.
  • See if you can help find the source of the problem. Assure them you are here to help them through this difficult time
  • Find a professional for them to speak with. Although you are trying to help, please keep in mind, you are not a professional. Take the time to help them find someone to speak with, even if it’s a school counselor or a family member.
  • Reassure them when needed. Anxiety can cause negative thinking patterns, so when they’re feeling negative, try to shed a positive light on the situation or just remind them that you care.
  • Set boundaries. This is super important. Never try to push them or you past the limit, meaning you should not try to force them to tell or do anything they aren’t comfortable with.

Although helping a friend is a great thing to do, it can get hard and exhausting at times, so make sure you care for yourself during the process! I learned this was very important. You still have to make sure you’re being taken care of both mentally and physically.

How To Spot the Signs of Anxiety

There are signs of anxiety people can identify themselves or friends or family can help you identify. Try to track and or record your feelings in a journal so you have documentation of your symptoms to discuss with a physician or therapist.

Signs You Might Be Experiencing Anxiety:

  • Chest pains or heart palpitations
  • Hyperventilating
  • Build up of nausea
  • Hot/cold flashes
  • Muscle tension or stomach pains
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Fatigue or difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep difficulties

A Friend or Family Member Might Be Showing These Signs of Anxiety:

  • Social awkwardness
  • Frequently agitated, angry outbursts/mood swings
  • Withdrawal/isolation
  • Expressing negative outlooks on life
  • Constant worrying
  • Paranoia or expressions of fear
  • Unable to focus or think straight
  • Nervous habits, like pacing
  • Erratic sleeping patterns /insomnia

If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, please get them the help they deserve, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Chasity is a student at Arabia Mountain High School who plans to attend the University of West Georgia to major in mass communications and hopes to produce her own radio and TV show there.

This story also appears in VOX ATL’s print edition of VOX Investigates: Teens In Crisis.

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