How to intervene
All of us may feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed at times and turn to our friends.
Feeling unsure of how to help or support a friend in distress? Here are some ways you can manage anxiety while being a listening ear.
Want to better understand your friends going through anxiety?
We recommend going through content from Stand Up for Our Families Week 1.
Even though it was designed for young children, the learning is the same for adults:
What are our emotions?
What are the tensions in our body?
How are they different from our thoughts?
Give your friend space to say everything they have to say. Let them express their emotions freely without interruption.
Instead of immediately trying to fix the problem at hand, listen quietly to what they're experiencing.
Most times, the person sharing wants to feel less alone, and have their feelings and experience validated.*
* To validate someone's experience is not to agree about their views, but to acknowledge that they are feeling what they are feeling right now.
When they finish/circle back to the same point, encourage your friend to pause and focus on their breathing.
In our anxiety, we tend to have shallow breathing that leads to a lack of oxygen.
This can escalate our feelings further when our body feels the distress of under-oxygenation.
Encourage your friend to practice conscious breathing. Remember to take a deep breath too!
Try this activity and become aware of different types of breathing people may experience:
Match your breathing rate and pace to the 3 animations.
After 30 seconds of each breathing exercise, read this statement aloud:
"I like to take walks in the park."
How did it feel when breathing and speaking?
How did the feeling and experience change between patterns?
What emotional state do you think the breathing pattern reflects?
Inhale as the circle expands slowly, exhale as it shrinks.
Inhale sharply when the circle ripples out, exhale as it shrinks.
Take 3 short inhales as the circle shrinks, exhale as it expands.
In emotional situations, recognise what emotional state your friends are in.
Encourage them to move from hurried or light breathing to slow, deep breaths.
After helping them to steady their breathing, check in on how your friend feels.
Go through their problem again, but encourage them to stick to a steady breathing rate.
Help them to think more clearly and find manageable solutions calmly.
Attend to your friend's emotional state.
Acknowledge that their feelings are very real to them.
A simple "It sounds like you're feeling upset and having a really hard time right now" can help your friend feel heard and understood.
While these acts may seem small and simple, they can be great helps in making your friend feel affirmed and acknowledged, and keeping conversations open in the future.
Remember to take deep breaths and practice self care so you can apply it when helping your friends too!