Dr Perpetua Neo

"Her Anxiety Is Very High": How To Help A Friend

Dear Neo,

I’m very worried for my friend. Her anxiety is very high. She works too hard (she owns her own shop, it earns healthy profits) and doesn’t do anything else at all. She is important to me, so I visit her at her shop. All I see is her worried, she chants them aloud. She doesn’t sleep enough, and all she says is “I’ve got no time”. She complains about her worrying, and how it drives her crazy. I think that’s why she works so hard, as she thinks her shop will go bust. (It’s not true). Her family worries a lot too. I’ve told her many times to see someone about it. She doesn’t want to have one more thing to eat up her time. We’re both in our early thirties, and hearing her worry about the rest of her life, being single if she works too hard, having wrinkles, makes me sad and angry for her. It’s watching a train wreck in slow mo. I want to be a better friend but don’t know how. How can I help her?

Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned Friend

When an elderly relative had glaucoma and refused an operation, people couldn’t understand. To them, she was being silly. But, she had certain ideas about operations, the medical system and her life. To her, she wasn’t being irrational.

Your letter made me think about why some people go to the doctor, and others don’t. Different factors influence if we take action, like your friend’s beliefs and how she may see worrying as normal. Given how her family worries. It sounds like your friend is not ready to take action. She’s on the see-saw between denying and accepting how big her difficulties are.

Her fears about her business may be real to her. They may come from something someone told her, that shapes her work ethics. And business-owners can be protective parents, giving our all. We forget to care about ourselves. Everything else is a threat to the time with the baby. It sounds like she needs to understand that the baby has grown up. And it may be difficult for you to convey that as a friend. How to help a friend with anxiety is not easy.


I’m glad you asked. If we looked out for one another, the world would be a kinder place. I think it’s great you visit her at work. You’re showing her you’re there. It’s hard not to see her through the filter of what sounds to be a deep friendship- but perhaps listen deeply to her fears, struggles, and dreams. Whilst resisting the urge to go ‘but’, ‘remember the time when you said/did. .’ Curiosity can part the Red Sea.

You can start with “I know we’ve talked about this before, and I’d really love to be here for you. And see things through your eyes”. Encourage her to examine her dreams- perhaps she’s forgotten about them. Ask questions like:-

  • “Can you tell me what you’re struggling with most.”
  • “How does this look like in your day”
  • “If everything were to be perfect, what would your day look like?”

And if you’re not ready for that, say “What can I do differently to make your day better?’. Be open to what she may say. Baby steps. Deep breath. Don’t forget to look out for yourself too.


Dear Neo is an advice column, from me to you. Got a burning question about your struggles and/or creating your desired life? Or, in understanding what your friend’s going through? Say hello here.