Anxiety is the most common mental health problem in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a whopping 18% of the population falls victim to this widespread, yet not often talked about, problem in our society.
For myself—and roughly 40-60% percent of other students—anxiety became a part of our daily routine after trailblazing through one of the most stressful times in our young-adult life: college.
Though I was fortunate to have caring friends and family, I still hesitated to reach out for support when I needed it most. I thought stress and anxiety were simply defining parts of the college experience, and that it would be something I could work out on my own. I was intimidated to ask for help and open up to friends, but wanted nothing more.
Despite the statistic that nearly 1/5th of the US struggles with anxiety, a stigma still lingers around the word itself, leaving those of us who identify with it not knowing how to talk about it and ask for the help we need.
It is more than likely you know someone living with a clinically anxious mind—maybe you even fall into the statistic yourself. The fact that this disorder is so present in our everyday lives only reinforces the need for larger awareness for how to help those around us.
Unless you’ve experienced anxiety firsthand, it can be hard to empathize with someone struggling through life with it. But a lack of personal experience doesn’t mean you’re unqualified to help—there are several ways to support a friend or family member by keeping these tips in mind:
- Ask first, act second.
For many people, the thought of asking for help is anxiety-inducing in itself. Asking someone with anxiety how you can help is the best thing you can do for them. Everyone channels their anxiety in a different way, thus there is not a simplified, fix-all, solution to this problem.
- Make listening a priority.
Sometimes silent, empathic support—whether a shoulder to cry on or a person to vent to—is more helpful than advice. While practical support is often appreciated, emotional support can be just as helpful.
- Do your part to destigmatize.
The biggest fear I had in opening up to close ones was the fear that people would look at me differently. By reassuring them that you still see them as who they truly are, under the occasional mask of anxiety, they can feel more comfortable to be honest and open about what they are going through.
- Encourage seeking professional help.
Going hand-in-hand with destigmatizing, talking about seeing a therapist can bring a somewhat-taboo topic into casual conversation. Only 1/3rd of people dealing with anxiety get the treatment they deserve. By encouraging loved ones to go to therapy, we can break the stigma against mental illness and improve this statistic altogether.
- Be there for yourself, too.
Helping someone else with their anxiety does not belittle any problems you face too, regardless of the title they fall under. Know that as a friend, there is only so much you can do, but even the smallest acts of help are appreciated.
Together we can tackle the nation-wide problem of anxiety—simply starting by acknowledging it exists. Anxiety is a treatable disorder. And while professional help is recommended, those who suffer don’t always get the treatment they need, making help from those arounds us even more appreciated, and all the more necessary.