Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions amongst young people today.
Yet anxiety still carries a negative stigma which makes it difficult to talk about and manage on a daily basis.
What is anxiety? How can we support our friends struggling with this disorder?
There are a number of things that can trigger anxiety, such as environment, stressful situations like school exams, problems within the family, bullying, discrimination or a traumatic event.
It can begin with feelings of sadness or worry, which are normal emotions by themselves, but when there is an inability to set aside the feelings of distress and a noticeable disruption to normal life, then there is cause for concern.
Anxiety can have physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms, which can include but are not limited to the following;
Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy
Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking
Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious
Over time, these symptoms can become more intense and affect friendships, family relationships, study and personal life.
Personally, I’d say an accurate description of anxiety is feeling constantly overwhelmed.
It is not a voluntary feeling and it’s not something you can switch off.
It can get to the point where a sufferer does not want to leave their house or bedroom and seemingly normal activities become a real struggle.
“The world can seem a little loud sometimes and that’s okay”
Anxiety is a really difficult illness to spot if the sufferer chooses to keep their symptoms hidden.
A simple conversation can make a huge difference in helping someone feel less alone and more supported in recovering from anxiety.
Don’t underestimate the importance of just ‘being there’ and simply asking someone how they are.
Being kind and compassionate to everyone you know is a great way to cultivate a positive environment for those suffering with anxiety.
If you notice a friend doesn’t want to hang out as much, maybe offer to go over to theirs instead, or to meet up one on one rather than in a larger group.
Ask them how they are feeling today? What’s worrying them?
Usually verbalising some of these things makes them much more manageable.
I cannot stress how important it is to talk to one another about these things – a problem shared is a problem halved.
Perhaps your friend doesn’t want to talk right now, and that’s okay.
Activities like yoga and meditation can really help to clear the mind and loosen tense muscles.
Maybe suggest going to a class together or hold your own meditation session in a local park.
Your friend may really value your company on a walk or another activity they enjoy, just being out in the fresh air I find really helps, so encourage them to go outside.
Keeping active is a real mood lifter, increases energy, improves sleep and increases appetite, which are all positive things that generally increase personal wellbeing.
If you see someone, a friend or otherwise, and they look to be having a panic attack, (rapid short breaths, sweatiness, inability to move) try to get them to sit or lie down, as dizziness is commonly another symptom.
They may be feeling overcrowded so give them as much personal space as they need but don’t abandon them.
It can be really scary to have a panic attack in a public place, so to have someone by your side is a real comfort, whether you know them personally or not.
Encourage them to breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth, until their breathing is steady again.
Just be there with them and let them know they are not alone.
Panic attacks are physically and emotionally draining.
Once the panic attack has passed, check if they have eaten or drunk anything today, you might be able to offer them some water or something to eat.
Try and make sure they get to where they were going, or back home, safely.
Depending on the severity of the disorder, supporting someone with anxiety can go beyond your capabilities.
If you think a friend needs professional help, speak to a GP about mental health services or visit the links at the bottom of this blog.
Your friend may not think they need help, but it’s really important to show your support by encouraging recovery, simply being there for them and making sure they know that they are not alone.
Written by Alex Jarvis for The Big Sister Experience.