How can I help a friend who's anxious by nature?
My best friend for so many years has an extremely anxious personality. She tends to overreact, to freak out over almost anything negative coming towards her, whether it's coming from her pushy (but nice) parents, or from her teachers, or from her other friends, or from... yeah, from basically anything and everything. She starts getting anxious and paranoid, She cries very often, her self-esteem crumbles, and she tries to hide her feelings by putting on a facade of being okay when it is very clear they're not. Even for me, and I'm not of a bright emotional intelligence or even worse, she becomes openly self-destructive physically and mentally. She recently started seeing a psychologist which is great, although she's not mentally ill and they know it, she just has this type of character, this nature.
And this brings us to my question, how can I effectively, if at all, help her? I've been of Stoic views for as long as I've been self-aware enough to even have views, and over the last years, I've read key Stoic philosophers and reflected on myself a lot to improve further. My friend acknowledges that and always tells me I'm their big inspiration, and we talk emotions and philosophy quite often but I feel like such talks bring them but a small, relatively temporary relief—no long-term improvements at all. Of course, it doesn't get to me, I'm not upset or annoyed or angry with her but maybe there's something I can do to actually influence how to react to things? Or anything at all to help them, to be a better friend for her?
Any advice is appreciated!
Encourage and support your friend’s decision to talk to their therapist about their anxieties. Be present and friendly, doing things with your friend that you both enjoy that do not stress your friend out. Accept that your friend is on their own unique journey, which you cannot control, but you can be witness to and present in their life during. Accept your friend just as they are.
Since they are already seeking professional help, you could try to check in on them regularly and try to get them out of their comfort zone in a controlled fashion. If you inspire them, I think they trust you to a great extent and if you get them to do something they aren't comfortable with, but also with having the psychological advantage of having you by their side, it might adjust their perception of the situation. Their reaction to criticism is something their therapist is going to work on, but you as a friend can give them your personal perspective about them in regards to the things, they get criticized for. It would give them a balance to the criticism, they just encountered, and their crumbling self esteem and self destructive behaviour. People tend to judge themselves way too hard, if they see even a grain of truth in criticism from other people.
I've had anxiety for we'll over 20 years.. well managed now and don't suffer like I used to. I would just be there for your friend. You definitely can't stop their suffering and it may be hard to understand what they are feeling if you've never felt it before. The only person I've ever read that truly (and compassionately) understood anxiety and how it felt was Dr. Claire Weekes. Her book Hope and Help for your Nerves made me feel deeply understood and ok. If your friend ever asks, feel free to share the book with them but otherwise, just accept them as they are and be ok if they back out of things at times. It's usually not personal. Hold their hand when they are afraid and walk thru the fear with them when they need it. You sound like a caring friend 🙂
We can rewire our brains and the ways we think it just takes time and training. I used to have crippling depression for most of my life before I came upon stoicism and did mental exercises every morning for about 3-4 months. Now I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that this is how it will be forever but if people put the effort in it’s amazing what you can change.
Exercise and meditation are two scientifically proven activities that reduce anxiety. Your friend could try those two as a start. If the psychiatrist gave them anxiety medication then that could potentially help too.