How can I be a good friend to someone who has anxiety? This is such a beautiful question. And the answer is both extremely simple and infinitely complex.
Short Answer: Simply love your friend.
Your friendship with a friend who suffers from anxiety may be just like any other on most days. But when their anxiety flares, realize that how your friend needs to experience love may be different than you think. It'll likely be different than what you yourself would want or need. During a period of extreme anxiety, the biggest help you can give your friend is to listen to what they're saying. Discover what they need from you in that moment.
From my experience, for most people, their needs can be boiled down to three things: Patience, presence, and communication.
If you have never struggled with anxiety or depression, one of the hardest things to understand is that anxiety can be utterly crippling. Debilitating anxiety can make it hard to think, process feelings logically, and sometimes, even hard to breathe.
A person struggling with anxiety isn't necessarily ignoring his or her self-worth. They aren't disregarding the real truths they know and recognize on any other day. They aren't trying to avoid trusting in God. Rather, they are caught up in the grip of something they literally cannot control. For many of them, this is as real as an asthma attack, a sugar crash, or a serious migraine. They can't prevent the panic attacks from coming on or stop the emotions and worries racing through them any more than you could control a heart attack.
Our gut instincts may be to try to fix what we perceive to be the problems and stop the anxious thoughts, but I urge you to resist that gut reaction. Trying to "fix" someone's mental health fails for two reasons: 1. We can't actually fix anything ourselves. 2. We might inadvertently add to their anxiety by trying (and failing) to "fix" them.
The best thing you can do for your friend when they are suffering from anxiety is to just patiently wait with them. Don't try to fix and, unless asked, don't offer ways to "make everything better"—especially their raging emotions.
Sometimes, your friend will just need to know he or she has a safe place to be. A constant. A lode stone. If your friend allows you to be this for him or her, this is a priceless gift. Even if you aren't that close to each other, you can simply be a good friend. Anxiety is very isolating, and many people find it easier to push everyone away instead of trying to fight their anxieties enough to trust themselves and other people.
Julia Brennan has a beautiful song about fighting things no one else can see and understand. In her song, she asks for her angels to please stay with her, to help her fight. Just being with someone, sitting with them, accepting them in their current state—be that good or bad—is the best thing you can do. When Jesus suffered, He asked only that His friends stay awake with Him for one hour. There will be times when your friend will need this.
But there will be lots of good days too. Don't forget that during the better times, you should be just as attentive as on the bad days. Be a constant friend, a true companion. Laugh when your friend laughs, cry when your friend cries. And let your friend do the same for you.
This is true of any friendship, but the importance is emphasized in a relationship with someone who has anxiety. They may need you to repeat things they already know to remind them of the reality of truth. They may need to tell you things but be afraid to tell you. Work at keeping communication open, reserving judgment, and exercising compassion. Make yourself a safe space. Learn to communicate effectively. Gently discover a deeper understanding about where they're coming from. Communication is a two-way street. Be sure you give them loving feedback as well as your own heart, otherwise, the relationship is hollow.
Allow them to be authentic, to express themselves on their messy days as well as their good ones. Remind them of the truths they know when they need it, and enjoy the blessing of a good friend when they return the favor.
All in all, a friendship is a relationship between two broken people. Every relationship has its own flavor, its own dynamic. I have a few friends with differing levels of anxiety, and each one is a bit different in how I approach them. But for each person, I try very hard to listen to what they need, to see if they feel safe with me, and show them unconditional love.
Most importantly, in the end, remember that your friend is so much more than his or her anxiety.
Brianna is a manager at her favorite childhood bookstore. She is likely to be found curled up with a book and her black cat, Bear, talking to a stranger, dancing outside in a thunderstorm, singing Disney songs while making cookies, or snuggling her best friend's baby while drinking coffee. Her heart is fueled by the desire to help people find their unique wings and use them in whatever capacity God has created them for. She is passionate about seeing and finding Christ in the secular world wherever she can.