13 Ways To Help a Friend with Anxiety During Coronavirus

Northwestern Medicine
Psychiatry and Psychology May 12, 2020
Many people are struggling with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone reacts to the circumstances differently and it can be challenging to know how to help a friend or family member having difficulty. Robert Gottlieb, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, shares some tips on how to help someone who is anxious.

Attribute to: Robert Gottlieb, licensed clinical professional counselor with Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital Behavioral Health

1. Ask if they want advice, or to just be heard. Sometimes saying something is enough without someone trying to solve our problems for us.

2. Listen patiently.
 Let your friend take their time in sharing - don’t rush them. Give them space to be heard and feel like you listened and understood.

3. Don’t judge.
What makes one person anxious may be of no consequence to another. Anxiety, like pain, is subjective and must be seen from the other persons’ perspective, not yours.

4. Empathize.
 Recognize their struggles and validate that what they are feeling is real for them. You don’t have to agree with them to let them know you hear them and see how they are struggling.

5. Relate if you can, but don’t take over the conversation.
 Sometimes when we feel anxious it’s nice to know we’re not alone. Relate with your friend on how you feel about it too to normalize their emotions. But be careful not to shift the focus of the conversation to make it about yourself instead.

6. Make yourself available. 
Trying to prioritize important people in our lives makes them feel important and safe coming to us. If you can’t talk right when your friend needs you, let them know when you’ll be reaching out and be sure you follow through.

7. Thank them. 
It’s hard to ask for help or let people know when we are struggling. Let your friend know you appreciate their trusting you and coming to you and that they aren’t being a burden in doing so.

8. Check back in later.
 Follow-up with your friend a few days later and see how they are doing. It’s nice to know people care and are thinking about you after the fact. We get over the difficulties of others faster than they do, and it helps them to know they are not forgotten.

9. Offer to help. 
Don’t just tell your friend, “if you need anything, let me know”. No one feels comfortable taking people up on that. Offer to help in a specific way in which you’re willing to help that’s related to their anxiety/need. Invite them to call you again, or set-up a weekly Zoom call.

10. Give advice only if requested.
 If your friend wants advice or feedback, give it to them, but do so in a limited manner. Don’t bombard them with too many different ideas or techniques at one time; this will only overwhelm them. Also, don’t take it personally if they don’t follow your advice. Remember, it’s about them not you.

11. Encourage connection. 
Encourage your friend to reach out to other people they may know as well. As much as we want to be a support for someone, being their sole support isn’t a wise decision. During times of uncertainty and anxiety, it’s good to have and utilize a robust support system.

12. Don’t assume.
Let your friend tell you what they think and feel. Don’t assume you can read their mind based on your own perspective or what the media is saying.

13. Have some helpful suggestions.
 There are lots of helpful anxiety management techniques to offer: deep breathing exercises, meditation, limiting news/social media intake, going for a walk, listening to music, connecting with friends and family, mindfulness exercises, journaling, aromatherapy, prayer, calling a therapist or showing random acts of kindness towards others.

To access non-emergency treatment at Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health, please call 630.933.4000. TTY 711.
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