Your pulse races and your stomach tightens. In your head, alarm bells are going off to warn you of impending danger. Reflexively, your hand is balled into a fist as you evaluate the incoming threat. These are feelings your friend with anxiety may experience on a regular basis.
Before we dive in, take stock of which perspective you bring to the table. First, if you are the friend with anxiety, you and I are in the same boat. I am sending you so many hugs. Looking back, I have lived with anxiety since childhood, although I have only been diagnosed for a couple years. Maybe this list will resonate with you, and you will see that there are others of us who negotiate with our anxiety in so many different ways. Hopefully this will also be a tool you can share to help others understand how our brains work.
Second, if anxiety is not a narrative you are living with, please read this with an open mind and compassion. Anxiety shows up in many forms, and often a friend with anxiety is exhausted from managing it. Please use this post as a beginning point for authentic communication as you get a glimpse into our world.
I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Without further ado, let’s jump on in and talk about the 10 tendencies of a friend with anxiety!
10. Avoidance of telephone conversations
I promise we want to be friends, but we also don’t want to talk on the phone right now. Can we text? That feels a lot lower stakes. Anxiety can make my brain go blank in an instance and unless the conversation is with a dear friend, that can be very scary. Written communication gives me time to think over my answer and make sure it reflects what I want it too. I’ll also do just about anything to avoid calling someplace for information. I can do it, but I just hate it.
9. Melting down over world events
Gosh can we talk about the world right now? Even people who aren’t typically anxious are feeling the strain of so many disasters and tragedies. Your friend with anxiety might need extra love right now. Our baseline of concern over “normal” nightmares (muggings, car wrecks, home invasions, etc) means that these extra events put us way over the edge. Personally, I’ve had an anxiety attack for the first time in two years. And look, I’m not saying we make world events about us. Not at all. We just feel it very strongly and need some extra support.
8. Making tons of lists
What makes an anxious person even more anxious? Not knowing what is coming next. Many of us like to maintain control over what we can, and that usually entails closely scheduling our life. Even days off might have an agenda. Sometimes this is a coping mechanism that tends towards unhealthy, as we stay busy to avoid being alone with our thoughts. But usually, it’s just a way to show our brain structure that allows it to chillax.
7. A friend with anxiety may avoid scary movies, books or situations
This ties back into my earlier mention of our high baseline anxiety. When the world feels like a dangerous conglomeration of daily risks, horror movies or haunted houses just don’t sound like fun. I have never visited one of those halloween walk throughs that pop up, because just the thought of it makes my heart race in panic. After going through one of those, I probably wouldn’t sleep for a week. I don’t understand why someone would pay for that. So don’t take it personally if we avoid plans for these types of events. We’ll be there for the next picnic or comedy!
6. Gets along with animals more easily than people.
If social anxiety is part of the anxiety bundle your friend has, I can almost unequivocally promise you they gravitate towards animals over people. At a party with strangers I tend to feel uncomfortable, but if the family pet wanders in, there’s an internal breath of relief. I’ll follow the critter, make them love me, and use them as a security blanket for the rest of the visit. Animals are just simpler, there are fewer rules of engagement and it feels easier to earn their approval.
5. Exercises a lot
As we all learned from Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands!” Your friend with anxiety probably isn’t the murderous type, so we’ll adjust that to say “happy people can function in society!” A burst of those fantastic exercise endorphins can go a long way to muffling the doomsday scenarios the anxious brain excels at. In moderation this is probably one of the healthiest coping mechanisms for anxiety.
4. Cancels Plans at the Last Minute
Oh, this one doesn’t feel good, but I have been there. Anxiety over plans in an unfamiliar place can skyrocket and manifest as physical symptoms. I have historically gotten massive headaches that caused me to cancel plans I was excited, but anxious, about. Sometimes, we are just too tired to manage anything else that day. Or an unexpected emotionally draining conversation has left us unable to manage further social activities. It has nothing to do with you, I promise. We are just forced to be highly aware of our boundaries and respecting our limits. Your graciousness helps our inner critic calm down and your compassion helps us extend compassion to ourselves.
3. Follows ALL THE RULES. All of them.
Like I mentioned earlier, anxiety is the most manageable inside structure. Structure is often found inside rules, laws, and norms. A friend with anxiety may be very aware of rules in place in any given situation and follow them to a T. I know that I am often afraid of getting in trouble, and so the assurance that I’m following the rules brings peace. The unfortunate flip side of this is that it is easy to become risk adverse. Sometimes, the rules need to be bent or broken. This is very difficult for an anxious person to do!
2. Over-analyzes EVERYTHING
Every look, every word, every nuance – you can bet an anxious person is soaking this all in and going over every detail later, probably at 2 am. We are masters at reading a room and responding accordingly, but also over thinking and reaching incorrect conclusions. Maybe he gave a short answer not because he doesn’t like you, but because he was distracted. Your friend didn’t text back for a week, not because she doesn’t want to be your friend, but because she forgot to hit “send.” As an anxious person, I’ve learned to address a perceived slight right away if possible, so that I don’t obsess over it later. As someone with a friend with anxiety, if they come to you, be sure to kindly let them know what was really going on in the interaction.
1. A friend with anxiety doesn’t want you to try and “fix” them
Look, we know anxiety can be difficult for us and for those in close contact with us. We know that from the outside, it must seem like a simple fix. Just go to yoga, do some meditation, practice stress relief. And while it’s true, those are all components in a tool box for coping, please know we are aware of it all. Most likely, we’ve spent hundreds of dollars and years of our life to learn how to manage our anxiety. Even if we haven’t, it’s still not what we want from you. We need love, compassion, stability and more love to give us energy to exist in a world that feels fraught with danger.
Don’t make us your project, just love us as we are. Your friend with anxiety will be so grateful!
This is a great post. I suffer from anxiety but it’s hard to tell people so they can help me so I usually go through it alone.
So much yes, a lot of times it’s difficult for other people to grasp. If you ever want to trade stories or coping mechanisms, feel free to email me! It’s nice to “meet” you!
Jennifer Burns says
Most of this is so true for me. I have GAD. 5 doesn’t apply to me because I have no energy and 9 because I don’t watch the news or read it. I tune my husband out when he is telling me about what is going on in the world. The rest is me to a T. #1 drives me nuts. I’m 43 years old. My anxiety got 100% worse after having a kidney transplant and the side effects of the meds mess with my nervous system. My mom and I used to be close but I couldn’t take her telling me all the time “it’s easy, you just make a list and go to the grocery store”. Etc on all my issues. To her “everything is so easy, you just have to …..”. If it was that easy I would have done it 2 years ago. Sometimes I just can’t leave my house. I’m glad someone else understands.
Jennifer, that is a mic drop statement right there. You do what you can, and give yourself grace for what you can’t. It’s so life giving to hear someone else who understands!
This is a great post, and I am glad you emphasized the last point, and how important it is.Thanks for sharing this!
You just described me to a “T”!!! It was like this article was talking about me!! I have always be the very shy type but I lived life also. My severe anxiety started this past October and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. I also have ADD so it’s VERY hard to explain into words of how to help me. Thank you so much for writing!!
It means so much to me that the article resonated with you, although I’m sorry to hear you struggle with anxiety like I do. Give yourself compassion & time, you’ll find your best coping strategies! <3
The one about preferring animals over people definitely resonated with me!