You’re catching up with a friend over dinner, and she reveals that she’s been feeling off recently. In fact, she went to a therapist and was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. Not sure what to say? We’ve got you. Here are five pitfalls to avoid—and a few ways you can be extra-supportive.
“Tell me about it. I’ve been so stressed this week.”
Commiserating with your friend might seem like the best way to tell her “you’re not alone,” but it might make her feel even worse. Anxiety isn’t the run-of-the-mill stress you feel when you have too much on your plate—it’s a medical condition. (And the panic that comes with it can sometimes feel like having a heart attack.) Instead of comparing, tell your friend how sorry you are to hear she’s been feeling this way and listen if she wants to tell you more.
“Have you tried meditation/yoga/fill-in-the-
Chances are, your pal has tried everything she can think of to soothe her anxiety, and giving her a to-do list with more things to try might make her feel even more anxious. Instead ask her how she likes her therapist (and if she doesn’t have one yet, encourage her to seek help).
“Let’s have a drink, that’ll help you relax.”
It might do the trick for you when you’re feeling stressed, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy idea for your friend. In fact, people with mood disorders are more likely to develop substance abuse problems than people who don’t, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. A better idea: drop by with your friend’s favorite tea, watch some Netflix and just be there.
“What do you have to be anxious about? Your life is awesome.”
Nice work trying to keep things positive; your intentions are definitely in the right place. But even if your friend has the most charmed life in the universe, it doesn’t mean she’s immune from anxiety disorders—no one is. The best thing you can do is accept her current feelings wherever she’s at. She’ll probably value your ability to listen without judgment far more than your pep talks.
“You're just overthinking it.”
When your friend keeps rehashing the same situations over and over, it might seem helpful to tell her to "snap out of it" and break the cycle. But sometimes, working a problem out (especially with a friend or partner) is the best way to help unravel a thought that's been feeling stuck in her mind. Even if it feels to you like she's not getting anywhere, she is—she's opening up about her worries, and just by doing that, she's taking a step in the right direction.