BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
At last count, anxiety was shown to affect more than 40 million adults in the US – or 18.1% of the population – and let us be honest, probably more now. Even though it’s relatively common and treatable, it can be difficult to discuss.
A few years ago, I reached out to one of my best friends to talk about my anxiety. I still remember how terrified I was – and worse? My friend was pretty blasé about what I felt was a major thing: I had been ghosting so much of our friendship because of my anxiety; I wanted to let her know why. And I remember telling her and feeling like it was this major admission, and all she said was “ok” and then moved on to talking about her latest crisis.
I tell this story not to scare you, but more to prepare you. There are a few things to think about if you’re getting ready to talk to a friend about your anxiety – or theirs:
If it’s you:
Think about why and who
Decide whom you’re going to talk to and why you want to tell them. If you think about your why – and the relationship you have with the person you’re talking to! – you’ll have a better plan going in. Because this is probably an emotional situation you’re getting into, you want to be as prepared as possible.
I wish I had thought about why I “needed” to tell my friend. I thought I had to because I was flaking on plans. If I had told her because I wanted her to know, then perhaps it would have gone differently. Also, had I considered to whom I was talking, I would have realized that she wasn’t the most empathetic friend I had.
Yes! This can be a spontaneous moment where everything spills out. Anything can be! But sometimes it’s easier to at least prep your brain (and maybe your conversation partner!) for what you’re going to talk about. Think about when you want to talk to your friend, and make sure it’s at a time when you’re ready to talk and they are ready to listen. A loud bar? Probably not the best time for something important.
You don’t have to tell it all
That day when I talked to my friend, I did not tell her everything I was dealing with. It was scary enough to tell her that I was being treated for anxiety! I didn’t realize it at the time, but keeping some of it to myself was probably one of the most helpful things I did. It allowed me to realize I had a lot to accept myself before I shared with others – I was still ashamed of having anxiety, and that shame wasn’t helping anyone.
You decide your narrative – no one else. Just you.
A few adds if it’s your friend:
This one is still very valid! If you want to help a friend that is struggling with anxiety, set a specific time to talk to her. It might be a dinner or a call – be sure you’re thinking about her and not just wedging it into a busy moment.
Be open and validate her
This isn’t the time to tell her to “just relax” or “get over it.” Anxiety is real, and the best thing you can do is validate what your friend is feeling. Diminishing her emotions helps no one. Focus on affirming how she feels, even if you don’t fully understand her. Say you are there for her, even if it’s as a listener, and mean it.