The Festive Season is, for many, a time of joy and happiness. But the Festive Season is also, for some, a stressful period during which unpleasant emotions such as depression, loneliness, stress and anxiety can become exaggerated and troublesome.
But if we strip away the commercialism that often dominates this time of year, and even the specifics of any one religion, for most of us Christmas is about connecting with family and friends; and the good news is that positive relationships can heal and boost happiness. Accordingly, the Festive Season is a fantastic opportunity to look out for those in need, and especially to do what you can for those who might be suffering.
Given that anxiety is one of the most common forms of psychological ill-health there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know someone who’s stressed and/or anxious; and if you do, then I hope you find the following list of 10 practical tips useful -
Let them know you care – this is easily achieved by telling or even just messaging your friend and saying that you’ve been thinking of them; that you’re proud of them for being strong; or maybe just that you’re grateful to have them in your life
Let them know you’re happy to listen and notably, that you won’t judge them – be open about your willingness to talk about anything and everything; and ensure you really listen (which is often more important than offering help or advice)
Learn about anxiety – the more you know the more you’ll find it easier to understand; and these days there are some great websites with very good information available
Just be there for and with them – remember that you don’t have to be an expert; you don’t have to be a therapist; all you need to be is a friend!
Don’t just focus on the anxiety/distress; try, also to organise pleasurable and fun activities – one of the simplest and most effective strategies for overcoming negative moods is to create positive moods. So do what you can to help your friend get out and try to enjoy life
Encourage them to engage in healthy activities; and, if necessary, discourage unhealthy choices – exercise is not just good for our physical health, but also exceptionally beneficial for mental health. And although alcohol might seem helpful in the short term for anxiety management; it’s definitely not helpful in the long-term
Focus on and reinforce any and all improvements and achievements – when people are feeling down they often discount any positives in their lives and any gains they might be making; so as a friend, highlighting and praising any and all progress would be extremely positive and useful
Be a friend, not a therapist (but don’t be afraid to enlist the support of an expert if and when necessary) – as already noted, you don’t have to be a psychologist; but that being said, if you’re concerned about your friend then helping them find and engage with a professional would be a good service
Encourage and assist them to get professional help – following on from the previous point, if you think it would help then consider inviting them to talk to their local doctor about a referral to a mental-health professional and/or search online through one of the more reputable sources (such as the Australian Psychological Society’s referral network) for a local expert
Finally, take care of yourself (you can’t help others if you become overly stressed and anxious) – this is very important; as much as you might want to help your friend you need to be careful that this doesn’t impact too much on your own health. So look after your own wellbeing so you can then look after others.
So there they are; my top 10 tips for helping a friend with anxiety this Christmas. I hope you find them useful and I hope you have a wonderful Festive Season and a happy New Year!