7 Things Your Friends With Anxiety Want You to Stop Doing

Published on 11/9/2021

I think we rarely recognise the damage we can potentially inflict on others. I like to believe that people are good, that we want the best for our friends and any mistakes are genuine slip-ups. Of course, it can go further than that, when slip-ups are repeated time after time, regardless of sharing how it makes us feel. But I want to believe in the good, in a world that already holds so much dark, and so I am going to hope that these are genuine mistakes.

So here’s your chance. I’m going to list the seven things that your friends with anxiety want you to stop doing, the seven things that send our anxiety skyrocketing. These are based on my own experiences as I near a decade with anxiety, and I also got some input from my friends on Twitter. These are the minor tweaks you could make in your friendships that would help them to feel understood and cared for, that would navigate around potentially anxious moments to ensure your friendship is a safe space.

1. Calling unexpectedly

Yesterday one of my best friends randomly tried to call me. I love her, she is honestly one of my favourite people in the world and I cherish the time we spend together, but I didn’t like this unexpected call. Seeing that name pop up on my screen and being suddenly confronted with a ringing sound set my anxiety off. I don’t know what it is, but I need to be prepared for social situations, even with people I can’t wait to see or talk to.

Whilst a lot of people love the spontaneity of a surprise phone call, I don’t, and apparently, I’m not the only one. It’s vital to recognise the differences between individuals, whether that’s in terms of anxiety or another mental illness or any other trait differentiation. Don’t assume that people will react the same way you do, and don’t judge them if they don’t.

What you should do instead:

Firstly, ask them whether they mind spontaneous phone calls, and ensure this is a safe space where they can truly express themselves. Clarify that it is okay if they don’t, and what they prefer instead. Find a compromise that you both like, and if a phone call is ever needed, send a quick message as a forewarning.

2. Telling them there’s no reason to be anxious

Look, we know you’re right. I’ll say that straight away as rationally speaking, you’re right; there is no reason to be anxious. We shouldn’t be this anxious about a party, a message, a confrontation, a presentation or whatever is triggering us. We shouldn’t be, but we are; that’s what really matters. It is not rational, but neither is anxiety, it’s when your fight or flight response becomes irrational and take on a life of their own. Sometimes there is literally no reason at all, nothing big, nothing small, simply nothing.

Telling a person that they shouldn’t be anxious doesn’t make the feeling go away; it just makes them feel like they can’t express this to you in the future. It makes them bottle it up and let it consume them. Whilst you mean well, this phrase doesn’t help.

What you should do instead:

Find out why they feel anxious, and clarify that it doesn’t need to make sense. Try to grasp the root of their anxiety, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Make sure that they understand that they don’t even need a reason. Be a sympathetic ear and help them to talk about it. Because once something is said out loud, it is far less scary and all-consuming. Then help them to break down these fears, highlight why it won’t be like that, and work away from that worst-case scenario.

3. Changing plans last minute

Knowledge gives me security, even the simple knowledge of what we’re doing. I like to know what to expect from social situations so I can prepare myself accordingly. I’m an extroverted introvert, so people easily forget that I can struggle in such situations and that I’m playing a part. Therefore, it throws me through a giant loop to suddenly have the plans changed with little notice, whether that’s inviting someone new, moving the destination, or changing anything along the way.

And on this note, don’t judge the people who need to plan every little detail. That’s a coping mechanism and it allows them to go out and enjoy themselves as you do. So give them the information they need to do this, contribute to their planning so it can be something you both like.

What you should do instead:

It can be tough if you’re more of a laissez-faire approach when it comes to hanging out, as you shouldn’t feel constrained by the plans they make. Try to find a compromise, work out what information really helps them and what can be left up to spontaneity. It could be that knowing who will be there is all they need for security, or maybe they prefer knowing where the event will take place.

If plans do have to change, acknowledge the impact of this. Apologise for the last-minute nature of things and reassure them, help focus their minds on how much fun you’ll have together or that you’re just excited to see them, provide the perspective change required to handle this change.

4. Making them the joke

Humour is a big part of friendships, and we all get to be the butt of the joke sometimes. Last week, I experienced that when I fell after a few too many drinks and got caught on camera. So I tucked my dignity away and had a good chuckle as we watched the video the next day. We all need to take our turn as the butt of the joke, and a bit of banter can be healthy between friends, but it’s vital to recognise the limits.

Recognise what is okay to joke about and what isn’t. Because whilst you can recognise a joke that went too far as a mere slip up, someone with anxiety could react very differently and enter a panicked state. It’s also about choosing your moments. If you’re a close group of friends, then tease away! But if you’re with people that you know your friend with anxiety isn’t comfortable around, consider reigning it in. Don’t use them to seem funny, as it will affect them a lot more than you would realise.

What you should do instead:

Take a moment to consider when you make a joke and what is fair game for teasing. If you ever notice them go quiet afterwards or look uncomfortable, bring this up to them privately and see if you took things too far. If so, apologise and consider it in the future. If not, then joke away! Also, consider why you feel the need to use other people for humour, as it could be that you’re offending people without anxiety too.

5. Taking their silence personally

This has honestly been one of my biggest lessons since graduating and confronting myself a bit more. I used to be guilty of this too. I assumed that someone wasn’t replying because they hated me or didn’t want to talk to me; I took it personally and thought them rude for it. I considered ‘being left on read’ to be offensive.

But I have been working on rewiring this thought pathway, and I think everyone should give it a go. People aren’t always ignoring you for dramatic reasons. Sometimes they’re busy, sometimes they’re waiting until they can give you a detailed response and sometimes they’re overwhelmed. You don’t know someone’s reason for being quiet or distant; you don’t know what they’re going through.

When people with anxiety feel overwhelmed, even by messages from their closest friends, they enter a fight or flight response. So they’ll either react defensively as fight (“Stop spamming me with messages!” or “You’re being so needy!”) or they’ll avoid the message as flight (.......). They’ll likely go for the latter, and that’s a good thing as it gives them the space to regroup without reflecting their experience onto you. They’re working through their demands and waiting until they’re neutral enough to cope logically again. It isn’t about having something better to do or not wanting to reply; it’s about self-preservation.

What you should do instead:

Ideally, you should give them the space they need. But I understand that you might be concerned or need a reply, so approach them in a non-attacking manner. Check in with them rather than badger them, for example by saying, “Hey, no rush to reply, just wanted to check if you’re okay!”. Or let them simply know that you’re thinking of them and you’re here when they need you.

I also make the effort to turn down someone’s apology for being absent or taking a while to reply, as I want to highlight that this isn’t something they did ‘wrong’ and subsequently, they shouldn’t be saying that they’re sorry. So I reply, “No need to be sorry! It wasn’t urgent at all” and move the conversation forward.

At the end of the day, it matters if someone is there when you need them most, when you just got dumped or had the worst day ever. It doesn’t matter if they take time to reply to a meme or straightforward “how are you?” text. Prioritise what you need from them, and it’ll give you great peace of mind as well.

6. Getting frustrated by the questions

Being around me can sometimes feel like an evolved version of the ‘why?’ game, where you respond to every answer with another ‘why?’. I ask a lot of questions, and I can imagine that it can get quite frustrating. I ask dozens of details about the plans we’re making, ensuring I have correct expectations and can prepare myself. I’ll repeatedly ask someone if they’re angry with me or mind something I’m doing, as I’m genuinely terrified of people being angry with me. I’ll repeat questions because I was too anxious to grasp the answer.

It turns out that I’m not the only one doing this frustrating task, as someone with anxiety expressed to me that they do this to quieten their mind; the millions of questions are an attempt to calm their mind and not evolve into full panic. So whilst it can come across as annoying, it’s actually done to make things easier for others, at least in our perception!

What you should do instead:

These questions may seem ridiculous to you, but they help us, so if you can answer them, then it would be a good step forward. But I also recognise that enough is enough, so try to move from the questions before you get too frustrated and snap at them, as this will only worsen things significantly.

My ex would get so tired of me asking if he was angry with me that he’d end up yelling at me. He wasn’t mad to start with, but now he certainly was, and so all my anxious thoughts could cling to that confirmation.

So try to get to the root of their questions. Ask them why they’re worried about this and what their mind is telling them right now. See how you can settle their mind so they don’t need these questions.

7. Telling them to “just relax”

The two most hated words in an anxious person’s dictionary. If I had a penny for every time someone had told me this, I would be able to afford a mortgage in this housing crisis.

I’ll let you in on a big secret:

It doesn’t work.

Telling me to relax won’t actually make me relax. I guess you think that you’re reminding me that nothing is actively wrong, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. My body feels like it is going to die. My mind is racing through every possible worst-case scenario. I won’t suddenly realise that I should “just relax” and calm down. I wish it were that easy; I truly do! Saying this may come from good intentions, but all it does is make me feel more isolated in my struggle and come across as condescending and uncaring, which I’m sure isn’t what you’re going for.

What you should do instead:

Try to understand what we feel so you can sympathise, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. That is the real key to supporting someone with a mental illness: understanding something even if it isn’t how you feel. Ask us to explain why we feel anxious and clarify that it doesn’t have to be rational. Next, ask if we want to be distracted, comforted or left alone, and act accordingly. Distract us by talking about something else or making us laugh. Comfort us by being a presence, stroking our arm or making us a warm cup of tea. Leave us alone if we really need some silence, and come back to check. It differs per person, so always check what your person needs! Disclaimer: these are in no way cures for anxiety, merely ways to help in the thick of an anxious moment.

At the end of the day, all you can do is have good intentions, and in our hearts, we know this and appreciate it. We appreciate the efforts that you make. That is why we want you to know these frustrating things, as we’re sure you don’t intend to make us feel this way, and now you know how to avoid our biggest pet peeves.

Each person with anxiety differs, as every mental illness is so subjective and wrapped around a person’s identity, insecurities and trauma. It’s always best to simply ask them what frustrates them and what you can do to help. Just the act of doing that highlights that you care and you’re here for them, and you have no idea how much that means to us.

Are your habits worsening your anxiety? Or if you're looking for a pick-me-up, check out the positive traits that come from your anxiety.

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?

For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:

info@byfleurine.com

I'd love to hear from you!

Ⓒ 2021 - Symptoms of Living