Monday 10 October 2016

Top Tips to Support a Friend with Anxiety

It's not always easy to support a friend who's going through anxiety at university. Claire shares her top tips for how a friend can be there to help with someone's anxiety.
- Claire Eastham

Starting university is a huge change and it can often be a shock to the system, particularly if you’re living away from home. I mean, one minute you’re in your own world minding your own business... and the next BANG there are hundreds of strangers weaving around and carrying boxes.

If you suffer from anxiety, this change can trigger it. Therefore having a friend that both understands and supports you is invaluable. It’s not always easy to help someone who has anxiety. I mean there’s not exactly a certified guidebook! From experience, here are my top tips:

1. Be patient. 
Don’t try and force the person to ‘calm down’ or ‘snap out of it’. Instead encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. The simple act of discussing what is going on inside their head can be very liberating. Don’t worry about offering therapy style advice, just allow them to talk and assure them that although you might not understand what they’re going through, you’re happy to listen.

2. Medical shizzle. 
If they haven’t already done so, advise that they make an appointment to see their local GP. This is especially important if they’ve moved away from home and no longer have easy access to medical advice. It’s standard, but vital. Offer to go with them for morale support if needed.

3. Code word. 
Saying the words ‘anxious’ and ‘anxiety’ can feel exposing. For example, before I accepted my diagnosis and felt more comfortable, I was paranoid of saying the words out loud. Therefore I devised my own secret language! My best friend and I had a special ‘code word’ that we used when I was really struggling. For example I’d text the word ‘wobble’ and she’d reply with affirmations such as; “You’ve dealt with this before and you can do it again.” “I know this is horrible, but you’re so strong.” “It will pass.” This code word can also be used in public. It’s a way to alert a friend, without attracting attention. 

4. Distract away. 
Distraction techniques are very effective and temporarily offer relief by diverting the brain away from anxious thoughts and feelings. Fyi, I’m not suggesting that you wave a baby’s rattle in their face, “look at the birdy!” Instead, maybe suggest that you go for a walk, watch a film or play a game? Phone apps are really good, but even something as simple as the alphabet game can work wonders. E.g. “Name as many girl’s names beginning with A as you can.’

5. Swat up! 
A variety of mental health organisations offer advice for caregivers on their websites. So read up when you have a spare five minutes, as this will further help you to understand what your friend is dealing with. Knowledge is power! They also have detailed explanations of the symptoms a sufferer might experience and how to deal with them.

Remember, you don’t have to be a doctor or a councillor to help someone who is suffering with anxiety. A simple ‘how are you feeling?’ or ‘would you like to talk about it?’ Can mean the world.

In the words of Randy Newman (the theme song guy from Toy Story)!
“You've got a friend in me. You've got a friend in me. When the road looks rough ahead and you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed, you just remember what your old pal said. Boy, you've got a friend in me. Yeah, you've got a friend in me”

For more tips to support a friend with their mental health, visit our Look After Your Mate guide.

Claire Eastham wrote this blog for World Mental Health Day 2016. Claire writes the Mind nominated blog WE’RE ALL MAD HERE and her upcoming book with Jessica Kingsley Publishers is available from 21st November.

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