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How to Help Someone With Anxiety & Not Say or Do the Wrong Things

Anxiety is a real condition that causes extreme anguish. It’s important to know how to help someone with anxiety and not to say the wrong thing.

how to help someone with anxiety

Telling a person with anxiety “not to worry” is just like telling a person with depression to “cheer up, it could be worse.” It’s the single worst thing you can possibly say. The problem is, far too many people have no idea how to help someone with anxiety.

Rather, they accidentally say the wrong thing or even inadvertently make it worse. 

Anxiety is one of the most complicated conditions we hear about in the modern day. It doesn’t follow a set pattern and varies from person to person.

However, anxiety is not just a bit of worry, but is a troubling and upsetting condition which can cause a person to feel completely out of control, extremely down, and can even cause panic attacks. 

As a person who has struggled with anxiety and still does from time to time, I know that being told to “calm down, you’re worrying about nothing” just doesn’t help.

It makes you feel like nobody understands you.

In reality, it actually makes the anxiety worse because you convince yourself there really is a huge problem to focus on. For that reason, let’s check out how to help someone with anxiety in a positive way, so you can use these tips in the future. 

[Read: Why we need to breakdown the stigma of mental health]

How to understand what someone with anxiety goes through

Unless you’ve had anxiety yourself, it’s extremely difficult to know how it feels. You might have been around someone with anxiety, and you’ll know the symptoms. Nevertheless, unless you’ve been in a situation where anxiety has taken control of your life and turned it upside down to any degree, it’s difficult to really understand. 

Anxiety can be extremely frightening. Of course, there are varying degrees of severity, but when you’re struggling with anxiety, you’re not just worried or a little anxious. You are wrapped into a sense of total negativity, and you have a sense of doom that you just can’t shift.

It might be that there is one very troubling issue that is causing your anxiety to peak, or it might just be how you’re feeling and anxiety seems to be all around you. 

People who struggle with anxiety can have it all the time, some of the time, or they have a big bout of it and then have it on and off in the future. There’s no set pattern, which makes it even harder to understand. 

[Read: What it feels like to experience anxiety in a relationship]

The main symptoms of anxiety to watch out for are:

1. Restlessness

2. Being withdrawn and anxious

3. Isolation and avoiding social situations

4. Shaking 

5. Flushing of the skin

6. Seeming to breathe in a shallow way

7. Not concentrating and struggling to focus

8. Seeming to have an ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking and overgeneralizing everything

Want to know how to read these signs of anxiety and handle them better? Check out all the signs of anxiety ASAP and handle it better the next time.

Of course, the difficulty here is that these symptoms of anxiety can all be mistaken for other things.

Unless you know that a person is feeling anxious or struggling with a particular event or issue, you could accidentally miss the signs. There are also far more anxiety symptoms than listed above, but you’d have to be in the person’s head and body to notice them.  

The best advice is to just be there for your friends and family members and pay attention. If you know them well, you’ll notice a shift in their behavior. That shift is your sign to help them out as much as you can. 

[Read: Learn how to open up to people and build real relationships]

How to help someone with anxiety

Learning how to help someone with anxiety can be worrying in itself. You’re so focused on not saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing.

Let’s check out a few ways you can do your best to make the situation at least slightly better for the person in your life who is struggling with anxiety. 

1. Learn about anxiety disorders

The first step in learning how to help someone with anxiety is to read up on the condition and know about it.

Anxiety isn’t just worrying, and that’s the biggest misconception there is. Learn about how it feels when anxiety rises and do your best to be armed with facts.

When you learn about a condition, you’re in a better position to understand that person and help them out. [Read: Is it social anxiety or just shyness – Here’s how to tell the difference]

2. Be on the lookout for common signs

Don’t just learn about what anxiety is, learn to know the signs and symptoms and be on the lookout for them in your friends and family members.

You can’t learn how to help someone with anxiety if you’re not too sure if that’s the actual problem at hand, so do some research.

3. Do not say ‘don’t worry’

Learning how to help someone with anxiety is as much about learning not what to say and do. Never tell someone with anxiety to “just calm down” or “don’t worry.”

As I mentioned earlier, that’s like telling someone who is depressed to “smile.”

It’s upsetting. And it will make them feel like you’re not taking them seriously. Therefore, exacerbating the problem. 

4. Let them know that you understand

Sometimes all a person struggling with anxiety needs is someone to understand what they’re going through. Be that person by letting your friend or family member know that you understand their anxiety and that you know how hard it is for them.

Be present with them.

But don’t make promises that you can’t keep. You can’t take their anxiety away, but you can support them through it. [Read: Learn how to show empathy and share someone else’s feelings and struggles]

5. Acknowledge that they’re struggling with anxiety

It might be that your friend or family member doesn’t actually know that what they’re struggling with is anxiety. When anxiety really rises and especially when it starts to cause panic attacks, it can feel like you’re literally going crazy.

Plus, a rapidly beating heart can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack. Helping them to understand that anxiety is the issue at hand, could be a huge help for them. 

Of course, it could be that they already know that they’re struggling with anxiety and they want you to acknowledge it as a problem. When someone says, “I see you, I hear you, I know what you’re going through,” it really does help. 

6. Learn about deep breathing exercises

When someone is having a panic attack or they’re heading that way, helping them to take deep, calming breaths can be a real help.

Learn about deep breathing and do it with them, helping them to not only calm their racing mind but to also let them know that they’re not alone and you’re right there with them. [Read: Nervous sweats – How to recognize the triggers and stop stress sweats]

7. Learn to really listen

There is nothing worse than talking to someone who you know isn’t listening properly. They just look like their attention is elsewhere, or even worse, they’re on their phone and not really paying attention.

When your friend, family member, partner, or whoever it is, is speaking to you, really listen to them. Let them know that they have your undivided attention.

Again, sometimes, a person just wants to be listened to and off-load whatever is on their mind. 

8. Be their ‘go-to’ person

This is a point that you need to be careful of in terms of boundaries. But if you want to know how to help someone with anxiety, be the person they can call whenever they’re struggling.

This doesn’t mean that they have permission to call you in the middle of the night or when you’re spending time with your partner. It means that whenever you are free and whenever you can listen, you will pick up the phone and be there with them. [Read: How to get someone to open up so you can really connect]

9. Exercise with them

Exercise can really help with anxiety conditions, but it’s a double-edged sword because a lot of the time, a person with anxiety won’t want to get up and exercise. They will want to hide away instead.

Encourage them to exercise and go with them for a run in the park, go to the gym, go to a dance class.

Basically, do something which gets them moving and helps them to distract their mind for a short while. The benefits are far-reaching for both of you!

10. Help them to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms

Sometimes when a person is struggling, they reach out towards unhealthy habits to cope. This could be drinking too much alcohol, smoking too much, eating too much, spending too much, or even taking drugs. Check in with your friend and watch their behavior for any red flags.

If you see any, be careful how you address it. But do your best to steer them away from those unhealthy options and towards healthier ones instead. [Read: Unhealthy habits? How to help your partner beat them]

11. Never blame the person for how they feel

It’s really easy to feel exasperated and snap when someone is talking about the thing they’re anxious about more than once.

However, it’s vital that you don’t make them feel like you’re blaming them for how they feel. They cannot help it.

Anxiety is a mental health condition, and it isn’t something they can just click their fingers and stop feeling. If you want to know how to help someone with anxiety, it means having a lot of patience and never blaming them for how they act or what they say/feel. 

12. Understand what to do when a panic attack occurs

If a panic attack is brewing or they’re in the middle of one, you need to know what to do to help them come out of the attack quickly and calmly.

Panic attacks can be extremely frightening for the person experiencing it, but they can also be upsetting for someone witnessing one too. 

Stay calm and do your best not to show any emotion other than empathy and understanding. Reassure them that you know they’re having a panic attack and that you’re right there with them.

Encourage them to focus their attention on something which isn’t moving, such as the wall or a chair, and to take deep breaths to bring the panic attack to an end quickly. 

13. Don’t push them to speak, but encourage instead

Anxiety sufferers sometimes don’t want to talk, or they might want to but don’t really know the words to say. Never force someone to speak.

Instead encourage them to do so by asking simple questions and not being too heavy-going. Keep things as light as you can, and let them know that anything they tell you, won’t go any further. 

14. Don’t try to rationalize, just listen

In addition to encouraging them, don’t try to be the voice of reason or rationalize whatever they’re telling you. A person who is really struggling with anxiety will come up with something else to twist even if you manage to clear one particular issue up for them. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Instead, just listen. If they ask advice, give it in a calm and open way, without judgement. 

15. Let them know that you’re there for them

Of course, the basic thing you can do when learning how to help someone with anxiety is just to let them know that you’re on their side and you’re there for them.

Anxiety sufferers can often feel completely misunderstood which can worsen the entire situation. Simply knowing that someone has your back is so vitally important. [Read: How to be a better person and keep growing into a kind human]

16. Ask them what they need from you

The final point when learning how to help someone with anxiety is to be strong enough to ask them what they need from you.

Do they want you to listen? Do they want you to talk? Or do they want you to just be there for silent support? Do they want you to distract them? 

Every person who suffers with anxiety is different. It’s empowering when someone says to you “I know you’re struggling with anxiety, but what do you need from me to help you?” That puts the control in their hands, giving them a sense of direction in a situation that often makes you feel so helpless. 

[Read: How to explain anxiety to someone you love and do it fearlessly]

Learning how to help someone with anxiety could be a huge life-changer for someone close to you. Much of the time, we don’t know the silent battles people around us are dealing with. With knowledge and understanding, you can support them and maybe even help them turn things around. 

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Nicky Curtis
Nicky Curtis
Having stumbled from one relationship drama to another throughout her 20s, Nicky is now somewhat of a guru in the crazy world of life and love. Telling it how i...
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