How to Know & Help If Your Friend Has Anxiety

Read this psychotherapist's tips for recognizing the signs and how to help a friend with anxiety.
When was the last time you worried? Was it earlier today, yesterday, or last week? Or maybe you’re just not really a worrier. But for someone with anxiety, worry isn’t just something that happens from time to time — it’s like being stuck in a constant loop.

For someone with anxiety, it feels like having a TV channel on in the background of your brain constantly streaming worry after worry. It’s much more than worrying too much. People often tell their friends who have anxiety to just “worry less,” but it isn’t that easy. If you have a friend who is struggling with anxiety, these tips might be more helpful.

Anxiety is more common than you may think

Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States? It is estimated that about 18% of the population experience an anxiety disorder every year — that’s almost one-fifth of the population.

Why is anxiety so common? Many factors influence the development of anxiety, including genetic and environmental contributors. If there is a family history of anxiety, it is more likely that an individual may struggle with anxiety themselves. Environmental factors that can also contribute to anxiety include childhood experiences, exposure to stress, or physical conditions such as a thyroid issue.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

How do you know if your friend is not just a “worrier” and is actually struggling with anxiety? Keep these symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in mind:

  • Feeling restless or keyed up
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Sleep disturbances

When it’s time for professional help

How do you know when your friend needs professional help? A good rule of thumb is that if any of your friend’s symptoms are impacting their day-to-day functioning, it’s time to take steps toward getting help. For example, if your friend is skipping out on social activities because his or her anxiety is getting in the way, or if their school or work performance is suffering because of their anxiety, it’s time to get help.

Even though almost one-fifth of people in the United States experience anxiety, only about 37% seek professional help for their symptoms. There are many reasons why people are hesitant to seek treatment: fear, lack of access to resources, the stigma surrounding mental illness, and misunderstanding about anxiety or the treatment process.

In my own work as a psychotherapist, I can say that many people put off seeking treatment for their anxiety because they’re nervous about meeting with a therapist for the first time, or they are worried about the stigma of mental illness — they think meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist means that they’re “crazy.” But I can also tell you that once my clients have started therapy, they say it’s one of the best and most helpful decisions they’ve ever made for themselves.

So if your friend is hesitant to seek treatment for any of the above reasons, you can play a critical role in removing the stigma of mental illness and the barriers they might face in getting help. A mental health professional will help your friend determine whether or not medication is necessary and will use research-supported treatment methods to help them overcome his or her anxiety. Several forms of treatment — including medication and cognitive behavioral therapy — have been shown to treat the symptoms of anxiety.

It can be heartbreaking to watch your friend struggle with the crippling effects of anxiety, but they don’t have to struggle through their anxiety alone. By being supportive and encouraging them to seek professional treatment, you can help them make their journey toward overcoming anxiety a little (or a lot) easier.

Be in the know with Grotto