(*photo credit to Blondinrikard Froberg*)
Research, research, research: before you open your mouth. Before you offer advice. Before you say the thing, the wrong thing, because unfortunately, that would be the easiest thing in the world for you to do. Listen to them. Ask them questions, if they're comfortable talking about it.
If you're not willing to try, to educate yourself, to accept: to understand, somehow, then walk away. Let them be. They will wear your ignorance as a scar on the heart.
Please, please, please do not ever tell them to 'calm down', or 'chill out'; do not ever tell them that they're being silly or have nothing to be anxious about. Let's acknowledge the obvious: if they could simply switch it off, they would. They would choose, in a heartbeat, to live without the bastard if they could.
They know that the world isn't about to end. They know that they're probably not about to drop dead. They understand, moreso than you do, that there isn't a logical reason for the dizzying, nauseating, heart-pounding dread that can consume them, out of nowhere, in all manner of places. And it's fucking exhausting, debilitating, sometimes: knowing all this, and still being unable to control it. It can be the hardest damn thing for them to simply make it through the day. To put one foot in front of the other. Appreciate the courage that it takes. Allow them their little victories: support, share in and cheerlead those little victories, always.
Be there. At 2am. At 2pm. Too. Be there when you don't know what to say. Especially when you don't know what to say. You will never be able to cure them, but you can make it a little better. Sometimes, your shoulder and a pot of mint chocolate chip ice cream, just having you next to them, will be....Everything. A slither of light in the black. Other times, they may not want to see you at all. And that's okay. It is what it is. Make sure they know that you're only a phone call away. Don't take it personally.
Be compassionate. There will be times when plans may need to be changed, or when they suddenly feel they have to leave somewhere, or when they want to turn the music down a little or step outside for a breather. These are small sacrifices. Welcome them with a soft smile.
Encourage the things that help them. Get them outside. The perpetual beauty of the earth: vast, rolling hills; crashing waves; the way that sunset bleeds spectacularly across the horizon: it's all tonic for the chaotic mind. Exercise with them: life is better through the lens of endorphins. Invite them to yoga and do tree poses and downward dogs beside them until your thighs are shaking. Offer to go to the doctor's appointment with them. Don't ever pass judgement on the pills, if that's the route they choose. Do more of that thing that makes their eyes pool with laughter.
On the bad days, they will feel like they are nothing more than the next panic attack. That they are their anxiety, and that is that. Remind them that it is just a small part of all parts. That they are kind and funny and spirited and brave. Remind them that there are days when we wade through the shit, and days when we bask in the sunlight, and that we are all human, and humanness is messy, unpredictable, and that we all experience this via different narratives. Remind them that you love them for who they are, not how they feel, and open yourself up to them too. The most comforting thing, I think, is to know that others are vulnerable too: that struggle is inevitable, and that we are never alone in it.
Hope, and hope, and hope, especially when they're hopeless. Remember that hopelessness is different to helplessness: that there is always a way forward, somehow.
Remember that you are one of the most treasured people on the entire planet: that their world is brighter with you in it. When people suffer with anxiety, darkness visits more often than the night. And so. Your friendship, your love: your light, is the most special thing of all.