Anxiety is a tricky thing as we all experience it but at different levels. It also means that everybody’s experience of it differs. So when you’re experiencing really bad anxiety or even an anxiety attack, how do you explain it to your friends so that they get what’s going on?
It can become scary when we think things like: “How do I explain what I’m feeling when I’m anxious?”, “What am I supposed to do if I get anxious when I’m out with friends?”, and “What if people judge me when I get anxious?”. That’s why it’s best just to face it head on and try talking to your friends about your anxiety.
First thing to think about is how close are you to them? Good friends are likely to be more supportive than acquaintances. Friends that you have known for a while will know who you are and your personality traits meaning that anxiety won’t necessarily be a defining factor whereas to newer people, they may think that it’s just who you are. People who understand that it isn’t a more likely willing to help you get out of that negative state of mind. Anxiety can be quite inconvenient for people who are close to those who are suffering so before you try explaining yourself, make sure that it is worth being around them. Not to be harsh to others, but it is an incredibly difficult thing to explain to somebody who doesn’t have it and there’s no point in trying if they aren’t really interested in understanding. In my experience, many friends weren’t keen on investing the time needed to help me get through it.
The easiest way I found to explain anxiety to friends is just to be blunt about it and say “I’m anxious”. For me it kind of just breaks the ice and stops me feeling like I have to suppress myself. It can often become just an indescribable feeling that they accept they won’t fully get, but they know what it means for you when you say you’re anxious.
Try explaining to your friends what situations you can and can’t do. Don’t feel as though you have to explain why, as they don’t need to know. It just makes it easier for everybody if they are aware of the places that you’ll struggle. It might mean you get left out of certain events but usually, people will still ask anyway. It’s a good thing though as there usually isn’t any pressure to go. So when you and your friends do meet up, you can do something you all enjoy.
Try explaining how you might act. This can be a pretty awkward conversation as I’ve found out but it also helps normalise the weird actions. My thing is when I’m anxious, I might start shaking my hands about, I might start pacing and I might even start doing little jumps. All of these look weird but if your friends expect it, they won’t react differently and they may just carry on as normal. It can even help by making jokes about it. One of the things about experiencing anxiety is feeling the need to hide it. If you don’t need to, and if you can even make light about the situation, often the anxiety will ease of a bit.
Try giving suggestions of how they can help. This is a real tricky one as there is no easy solution to anxiety but people tend to feel better when they feel like they can help. For example, if you want them to walk and talk with you, suggest that. Maybe there are certain words that calm you down (such as, “it’ll pass soon” or “you’ll be OK”) so mention that. It may also be worth mentioning what doesn’t help so that tensions don’t rise.
Often friends may try to reassure you by saying there is nothing to be anxious about. This can be quite frustrating as we know logically there isn’t but that doesn’t stop the anxiety. Things like this may be worth mentioning to your friends and saying that it doesn’t help. The best time to do it is when you are calm though.
If explaining things to friends, try not to do it when anxious as it may be a bit too intense. People can feel as though you are targeting their behaviour or you have a problem with them.
If you’re on the road to recovery, speak to your friends about things you’d like to try. Perhaps they can help you try out new situations and provide support in you in doing new things. It’s important to be clear with them about what might happen though, if you get there and feel as though you can’t do it.
At the end of the day, friends normally have the best intentions at heart and they want to help you. Surround yourself with good people and just be open and honest. Some people may not get it but some people will and you’d be amazed at how quickly things can get better.