I have been writing lately about mental disorders and recognize that no anxious person is alike in how they react to their environment, but I wanted to share some basic tips for those who are friends with people with anxiety, social phobia, or panic disorders.
1. If they do not show up to a party, do not tell them, “Are you seeing a therapist?” Truthfully, they not only have been seeing a therapist their entire lives but also may have terrible experiences with therapists. Therapy is a hidden secret to many people who suffer from mental disorders. We do not always like to share that aspect of our lives. Also, saying that idea pushes them further into themselves and causes more anxious thoughts to follow.
2. If they do not show up to a party, do not surprise them by taking them to a party. They may need to process the information and prepare themselves to attend a party. This processing may cause them to remain aloof and not attend a party anyway, but let them make their own decision. If you take them to a party without telling them, they may have a panic attack at the party!
3. Are there methods of getting them to a social engagement? Yes. Make them laugh. Put them in a good mood. Do not rush them toward an answer. You might take them to Starbucks or another open space and have a useful conversation with them. Then, ask them to go to a party or elsewhere. If they still refuse, shake their hand. Give them a pat on the back and tell them how much fun you had with them at Starbucks or elsewhere.
4. Panic attacks may create guilt for the person. They may feel horribly awkward they have to leave a room or pull into a parking lot if occurring in the car. Don’t complain if you are riding with a person having a panic attack. Offer to roll down the windows and play with your phone. They will worry that you are not happy, so look busy and enjoy life while their body adjusts to the attack. Panic attacks may last ten minutes, but from my experience, there is an aftereffect like the ruins of a tornado. Give them choices. “Hey, you want to go home or to the park? Either one suits me fine.”
5. Overstimulation, like a laugh, may result in a panic attack. Sometimes a person may also talk rapidly as a means of releasing some of the excessive energy within them. Being alone creates a social adjustment and equilibrium for the person, but also the person may need to rapidly talk, walk, run, or do something else to create balance in themselves. There is not one method that works cognitively for a person. Their fight or flight response is engaged, so be aware of receiving 100 emails or text messages at once. While it is important to let them know that email or text messaging may not be socially proper, especially in a working condition, realize punishing them for it may not be the best solution. If you are with them when their minds are firing quickly, let them speak. If they are in public, take them to a private place to release the chaos.
6. People with panic disorder may not be introverts or have social phobias whatsoever. I simply place the three conditions in the same area because I experience these conditions.
7. People with mental health conditions are highly employable and productive members of society. They do as wonderful as friends with diabetes to the pressures of a productive lifestyle. They are not broken. Because of their condition, they may have created highly organized methods of producing results that are faster than many other workers. They have a genetic disposition to these conditions and deserve the same recognition as all people with mental or physical issues. Panic disorder, social phobia, and depression run rampant in my family. I did not know this information as a child until I evaluated and analyzed my grandfather, my aunt, and my mother. Anxiety also pervades both my children.
8. If you have a friend with mental health disorders, learn about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and meditation. You may never get the person to meditate with you because they may feel awkward being around others, but you can use many of the tools from CBT or meditation to help your friends understand themselves psychologically. For example, though not meditation or CBT, I found that tapping my palms quickly while in a dark room helped me cope with an overreactive brain. Bending over to the ground or stretching has also helped during the early days of my panic attacks. Now, I have so many tools. Share tools with your friends peacefully without judgement. Try the tools with them if they allow it.
9. Watch your friends. If you notice they are isolating themselves too much, you may need to email, call, or text them. They probably won’t answer you. Don’t feel frustrated. They are reading your messages, so show encouragement. They will thank you later or not thank you at all. We seem to be a creature of habit that friendship needs equality, but honestly, friendship is sometimes one directional at some periods in your life. Your friends with mental health issues will be absolutely engaged at other times. So don’t give up on your friends.
10. Stand up for your friends with mental health issues. They need advocates and, at times, protectors because they may not be able to represent themselves completely in stressful times. My parents are my advocates. They know when I do not have the answers that they will come to my rescue. I am pro-active about this tenth point. People living with mental health need lifelines that are consistent and dependable. Don’t let them wear you out or take advantage of you. That’s not my reasoning here. Just be their lifeline in times of struggle.
These tips, I hope, will help your friends suffering from hard times or a mental health conditions. Therapy is absolutely helpful for people, though some people may not take the bait of therapy. If they refuse therapy, understanding your friends’ conditions may be one meaning to understanding ourselves.