Anxiety can have a big impact on friendships. Whether you are suffering from anxiety or you have a friend that is, it can strain, change and put pressure on your friendship. Anxiety can present itself in different ways for different people. It can be hard to pinpoint its cause and even harder to pinpoint its cure. For the sufferer, anxiety is a journey. It is something that is not likely to fully disappear but is certainly something that can be worked at and managed really well. Here are things you need to know about anxiety and friendships.
A good start is to identify the signs of anxiety. Below are some signs that may suggest you are suffering from anxiety or you have a friend that is.
Signs of anxiety within friendships
Signs you may be an anxious friend
- Overthinking – Do you meet with friends and afterwards instantly overthink what you said, how you acted or what you did?
- Feeling neediness – Do you feel like you need your friends to look after you, to make you happy or to get you through life?
- Preferring to always spend time alone – Do you want to hangout with friends but feel too anxious? Does the thought of going out with them make you panic so much that you always cancel?
Signs you may have an anxious friend
- Difficult to understand – Do you feel like your friend is acting in a way that is out of character? Are they behaving differently or not being ‘them’?
- Unreliable – Do you feel like your friend has got unreliable and constantly cancels plans last minute?
- Uninterested in you – Has your friend suddenly gone through a shift that makes them seem uninterested in you? Are they distancing themselves from you?*
How to manage anxiety and friendships
Anxiety can be confusing for both the person suffering with it and those around them. Levels of anxiety someone is experiencing can constantly change too. It can change minute to minute throughout the day or go on for prolonged periods of time. It is really important to speak to others, confide in your friends and help each other through tough times.
Managing your friendship if you are suffering with anxiety
As someone that is experiencing anxiety it is really important to get to know yourself. Make note of your triggers. It can be helpful to make note of where you are most at ease with friends and when you feel most anxious with friends. You may discover that there are certain locations that make you feel more comfortable than others. For example large group hangouts may make you feel anxious whereas one-to-one meetups allow you freedom of meaningful conversations and put you at ease. Anxiety is about learning how it impacts you, how you can manage it best and how you can continue doing the things that make you feel good, as well as challenging yourself little by little to do the things that make you feel anxious. Always be honest with your friends so that they have the best chance of understanding how you are feeling. Remind them it’s no reflection of them and it is a struggle that you are facing and suggest how they can help you.
Managing your friendship with a friend suffering with anxiety
If you have a friend that is going through anxiety you don’t need to try and cure them. You need to accept they are experiencing anxiety and nourish your friendship through it. This may mean that you need to put more effort in and you may not get much back for a while. It’s important to remember here that an anxious person’s behaviour is not a reflection of you. For example, if your anxious friend cancels plans last minute it’s not because they don’t want to hang out but because they feel like they can’t. Instead ask what they would prefer to do or suggest an alternative like visiting them at their house so they don’t have to go out. Slow your friendship down, be there for your friend and love them no matter what. Never send negative messages or blame them for anything, it will only make them more anxious. Consistent and simple messages like ‘how are you’ can mean the world and are the best way to show you are thinking of them and that you care. Don’t give up on your friend if they isolate themselves.
Things to remember about anxiety and friendships
True friendships nourish and grow with all challenges that they face. Being honest with each other and sharing problems is all a massive positive part of friendship. Getting through tough times together makes the friendship stronger and creates an even better bond between you. Surround yourself with friends that make you feel comfortable, that bring out the best in you and that love you no matter what.
*Although I have outlined a few potential symptoms of anxiety there are many more. If you or a friend is suffering from anxiety you may wish to seek professional help. There is more information on the NHS website here. The Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours, 365 days a year, for people who want to talk in confidence. Call 116 123 (free).