Anxiety disorders take many guises; they affect about one in 20 of us (Mental Health Foundation). For many of us, anxiety becomes a slightly uncomfortable part of the fabric of day to day life. Whilst we might be seeking treatment there may be many months when anxiety punctuates our daily lives. Many of us are lucky enough to have friends who support and try to understand. Those friends and colleagues mean the world to us but your kindness often leaves our worried mind full of unanswered thoughts and questions that we're too scared to voice.
We don't understand why you persevere
This is a big issue for both myself and many fellow sufferers. Anxiety makes us much harder to be friends with. We often change plans. If we do manage to turn up when we say we will, we may be very quiet, or angry or tearful and we may go home early or suddenly. Yet you continue to invite us, be patient with us and to be continually reassuring and supportive. This unconditional care and kindness can feel alien and perplexing to many sufferers of anxiety who simply cannot understand why you persevere.
Reassure us by: Tackling it head on. Acknowledge our absence or lateness and link the behaviour to our anxiety rather than our personality. It can also help if you remind us that we'd stick by you if our roles were reversed.
We're terrified you'll abandon us
Despite the fact that you prove time and time again that you're in this for the long haul, we spend every day assuming this is the last time. That you will finally have had enough. On the whole we don't have the words or the courage to express this fear, or we may worry that vocalising it will make it come true. Whilst we may take active efforts to avoid social contact, the thing that many of us fear more than anything is being truly alone and isolated.
Reassure us by: Remaining consistent and predictable. Stay in touch even when we find it too hard to respond and reassure us that you understand why your messages sometimes go unanswered but that you'll be there when we're ready.
When we seem quiet to you, the world seems loud to us
Sometimes we grow very quiet. We might appear to zone out of social situations, or our conversation may slow right down and we might seem tense or distracted. At times like these, conversation can feel a little awkward as it's so full of gaps and silences. That's not how it sounds to us - often, during these 'quiet' times, our head is full of raging worries. We may be analysing the situation around us, replaying earlier conversations and beating ourselves up, trying to tune out from intrusive thoughts of self-harm or becoming steadily more anxious about an upcoming situation.
Reassure us by: Understanding that whilst you may be sitting in uncomfortable silence, our world may be far from quiet. Becoming more comfortable with silence and giving us time to untangle our thoughts and feelings will help both of us to communicate more fluently during the moments of high anxiety.
Sometimes our anxiety comes from nowhere, fast
We can go from feeling perfectly fine, to spiralling into complete panic, fast. It's unnerving for both of us and often there is no explanation at all - or at least not one we can work out or articulate at the moment it happens.
Reassure us by: finding a time when we feel a bit calmer and asking us about what we find helpful to regulate our anxiety. With these ideas, you can support us when things get suddenly harder. Things like breathing exercises, walking or listening to music might help - it's different for everyone.
We know we're not the easiest of people to be friends with, and we really appreciate you sticking by us. Sometimes we don't know how to say that either - so from one anxiety sufferer, to the friends of many, thank you for your support.