Ask Ann Cannon: My friend has high anxiety and I want to help

Dear Ann Cannon • My close friend has recently developed severe anxiety. How can I help her?

Faithful Friend

Dear Faithful Friend • Oh, wow. This is SUCH a great question. I don’t have any statistical data to back up my observation, but I’m guessing that most of us know someone who suffers from anxiety — that is, if we’re not suffering from it ourselves. Anxiety is rampant these days. Sometimes I think we human beings just aren’t wired to handle our modern world, you know?

In order to answer your question, I reached out to friends who work as therapists for advice. They offered the following suggestions:

1. Don’t tell your friend to “stop worrying” or that “there’s nothing to worry about.” Doing so can actually make her feel more anxious.

2. Do let your friend know you love her no matter what. Call her. Send her a text. Let her know you care. Be there physically at her side if that’s what she needs when her anxiety flares up.

3. Speaking of which, ask your friend what she wants you to do. Different people experience anxiety in different ways. It makes sense, therefore, that not everyone needs the same thing, so have an honest conversation with your friend. Find out what’s most helpful to her when her anxiety starts to spiral. It might be a good idea to have this conversation, in fact, when she isn’t feeling anxious.

4. Also speaking of which, when a person is in the throes of anxiety, she may avoid daily tasks, which can cause further anxiety. If possible, help her engage and complete those tasks.

5. Listen without judgment. And by listen, I mean listen. As much as you want to “fix” your friend and make everything all better, don’t give advice unless she asks you for it.

6. Support her decision to seek therapy. Truly, a combination of therapy and medication can be a lifesaver for those suffering from anxiety.

I do hope this helps. Here’s wishing you and your friend the very best.

Dear Ann Cannon • A woman in my former LDS ward sends over Christmas treats every year, but I’d like to ask her to stop. Receiving this gift brings back the pain that made me arrive at the decision to stop attending church, and it was no different this year. I found myself stewing about it for days after finding the gift on my porch. This has been going on since the ′90s! I’d like to send a card thanking her for her thoughtfulness, but asking her to stop. Any ideas on how to word this request? Thanks!

Stop the Madness

Dear Stop the Madness • It would be interesting to find out how many former Mormons feel the same way you do. I’m sure your particular reaction to treats left on your porch would come as a surprise to the woman who leaves them there every year. Ulterior motives aside, my guess is that she mostly feels like she’s performing an act of kindness — especially since she’s done this for decades now.

Whatever the motivation, however, her gift does cause you pain. If you choose to write a letter, I think you should be both gracious and honest, telling her what you’ve told me here. You could word the letter something like this:

Dear (Fill in the Blank): Thank you so much for the treats you always leave for me. I know your gifts are given with the very best of intentions. The truth is, however, that they remind me of the very real anguish I felt at the time I stopped going to church. I know that’s probably a hard thing to understand, but it’s the reason why I’m respectfully asking you to stop leaving treats for me during the holiday season. Meanwhile, I do wish you and yours the very best!

Would that work?

(And, meanwhile, I wish you — and her — the very best.)

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.