Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressors in their life. But for others, anxiety can be so intense and disruptive that it becomes a disabling condition.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping people with anxiety, there are helpful things you can do to support them and make them feel comfortable and safe.
According to mental health experts, here are effective ways to help someone with anxiety and make their life a little easier.
Show unconditional love coupled with an educated approach based
Anxiety affects approximately 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. This assessment correlates very closely with the global estimates, which are approximately 3.1%, according to the World Health Organization.
Generalized anxiety disorder often co-occurs with major depression, and women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Roughly half of those affected by anxiety are likely to seek treatment to address it.
Anxiety can cause victims to feel lost and alone in a world that does not understand them, much less the condition they suffer from. Its effects can range from mild discomfort to physical, emotional, and intellectual paralysis.
It not only can seriously affect the life of its host, but it also wreaks havoc on family members and other individuals who are part of the life of someone suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety, like any other debilitating condition, needs to be treated as a family problem. Understanding the causes, dynamics, and eventual treatment modalities associated with anxiety is important.
Informed family members and friends present the best opportunity to help someone through the horrors of anxiety while also providing support and encouragement to obtain the necessary treatment to begin the recovery process from this menacing internal demon.
Becoming informed and obtaining the information necessary to understand anxiety can help family members avoid making suggestions that can exacerbate an already difficult situation. It also allows the person suffering from anxiety to be more trusting of the assistance you are trying to provide.
There is much information available from trusted sources on the internet, and it also makes sense to contact your health providers to obtain their insights and additional network resources to help you and the person suffering from anxiety.
The 12 most important things you can do to help someone suffering from anxiety:
Learn as much as you can about anxiety
In recent years, more research has been conducted to determine the causes, manifestations, and treatment modalities related to anxiety.
There are many forms of anxiety, such as:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
Other anxiety disorders include Agoraphobia, Selective mutism, Separation anxiety disorder, and Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder involving intoxication or withdrawal or medication treatment.
Understanding the information related to them puts you in a better position to understand what happens when anxiety takes over someone’s life and what you can do to help that person.
Doing so will also help you identify the symptoms and triggers that someone with anxiety is experiencing and how they feel before, during, and after an anxiety attack.
Talk with the person who has anxiety
Learn about how anxiety is affecting them. People suffering from anxiety feel as though they are alone and no one understands them.
All too often, these people feel as though they are being judged and that people are presenting them with quasi-intelligent, quick-fix solutions that they can never apply in their lives.
Ask them questions that are designed to help them express themselves. Be willing to tell them that even though you don’t understand all of it and that anxiety is not affecting you as it does them, you’re eager to make a concerted effort to understand the dynamics of their affliction and the way it affects them individually.
Validate what they say, even though you don’t understand what they’re experiencing.
Tell them that they are important to you and what they say is equally important
Validation is nothing more than recognizing or affirming that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile. You don’t have to completely understand what they are saying. You don’t even have to agree with their point of view.
It is simply telling them that they are important to you and that understanding what they are saying is equally important. It’s difficult for someone to trust you if they don’t think you are taking them seriously.
You don’t have anxiety; they do. Just let them know that you are here for them, that they are important to you, and that you are willing to do whatever you can to help them.
Never judge a person who has anxiety
All too often, a person suffering from anxiety will present as someone who is:
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Refusing help
- Overly concerned with their own feelings
Anxiety is a physical condition that dramatically impacts their physical health. It works its way through an individual’s emotions, causing them to react quickly and, often, over-dramatically.
When it finally reaches a person’s intellect, they will experience chaotic and conflicting thoughts, confusion, memory loss, and organizational challenges.
By not judging them, you put yourself in a position to be more sympathetic. This will help you as you attempt to assist them through their difficulties.
It will also help you to refrain from offering them simplistic solutions, which will appear condescending and demoralizing to them, and are often not actionable for them.
Help them formulate a support network
Help a person with anxiety formulate a support network to help them address the problem. This network should include other informed family and friends, physicians, counselors, group support people, and, when appropriate, employment professionals.
A support network is instrumental in helping someone afflicted with anxiety to move into a recovery platform and begin to address the responsibilities and initial steps associated with recovery.
You may initially be the driving force in establishing the network, but as time goes on, they will be more able to access those people and services themselves. Encourage them to begin to use the network, even if it means being part of it yourself, initially.
Help them schedule appointments with members of their network
Help them schedule appointments with members of their network to address their anxiety and what it has caused in their lives.
It’s advisable to begin a support network by accessing the services of a primary care physician. This person will schedule the initial evaluation, arrange for blood testing if necessary, and make referrals to any specialists who may be appropriate.
Professional counselors are often a good idea to help the person cope with and devise strategies to begin to move beyond the grasp of their anxiety.
An appointment with a professional counselor can be made before, after, or during the time being spent with their primary care physician.
An anxiety support group can be an advantageous part of the support network. Support groups help people understand that they are not alone in their suffering, that other people are experiencing the same difficulties, and that there is a logical way out of their distress.
Pay attention to a healthy life schedule, good sleep habits, and nutrition
Since anxiety has a strong impact on the body, it’s crucial to help them become as physically healthy as possible. People suffering from anxiety tend to lose focus on healthy daily routines, good nutrition, and the sleep they need to rejuvenate their bodies.
The healthier they are physically, the better their chance of fending off this anxiety demon. Enlist the help of a nutritionist if necessary. Always keep their physician apprised of any physical developments.
Be consistent in your willingness to help them
Be consistent in your willingness to help them and your availability to do so. All too often, “anxiety caregivers” begin assisting someone suffering from anxiety, but their involvement is sporadic and inconsistent.
If you are deciding to help someone suffering from anxiety, your consistent involvement with them indicates that you, in fact, do value them, that you care about what they are experiencing, and that you are sincere in your willingness to help them.
People helping those suffering from anxiety can become frustrated when they don’t improve quickly and reduce their involvement with that person. This is a quick indication that they are a bother. This can reinforce their feelings of worthlessness.
If you are going to help, then do so, but be there for the long run.
Assist them as they take the necessary little steps
Assist them as they take the necessary little steps to help move through the problem. As with any other attempt to move through a debilitating condition, nothing will happen fast when it comes to someone’s recovery from anxiety.
Little steps are absolutely essential and can represent important movements forward for a person suffering from anxiety. The key for them is to be consistent with these small steps.
You can assist them by helping them identify some small things to do that will serve to both initiate action instead of rumination and help them understand that they are capable of moving forward.
Sit down with them, make a list of some of the things they want to change, and break them down into smaller components that the person can realistically accomplish.
Try not to push too hard, or become frustrated when they’re not moving at the pace you feel is appropriate. Any movement is good movement.
Be warm and loving, but do not enable them
It’s never a good idea for someone suffering from anxiety to use it as an excuse to avoid responsibility and action.
Make it clear to them that you expect them to move forward, that you are willing to help them, that there is no timetable for it to happen, but that you expect consistent action.
Make sure that before you initiate any action steps or any movement forward on your port, their support network is firmly on board with your plan. The more support they have, the better their chances for success.
Allow them to vent but not fixate on the problem
Since anxiety accelerates the body and has a serious impact on emotions, and the intellect, letting off some steam is always a good idea. On the other hand, we don’t want venting without incremental forward movement to become the natural order of things.
Allow them to speak their minds, then indicate that it’s essential to have a rational discussion about what they are feeling and that the discussion should include either a solution to the problem or a way, with the help of their network, to help address it.
Make sure they understand that your love for them is unconditional
As you attempt to help someone suffering from anxiety, remember that they may not feel worthy of your help and may struggle with their ability to accept it.
Though you are encouraging them to do what is necessary to both enter and maintain their recovery program, they should also know that your love and commitment to them are unconditional.
That you have no intention of leaving them behind and that they are worth all of your energies to help move them beyond what is currently affecting them.
Unconditional love coupled with an educated approach based on well-researched information about anxiety provides the foundation necessary to help someone with anxiety restore their life to the health they desperately seek.
Understanding as much as you can about this internal demon and committing to understanding what someone you are trying to help is experiencing sets the stage for a recovery program that is so often missing in the life of someone suffering from anxiety
There is a way out of this paralyzing condition. Accurate information, the willingness to help, consistent availability, a support network, and a gentle push forward—along with unconditional love to support it, provide the hope that everyone suffering from anxiety is looking for.
That hope can bring a very desperate person out of the darkness and into the light.
Related: Why Is Hope so Important in Life?
Sandra Zuazo, PsyD.
Trauma Therapist | Professional Psychologist, Psychology Today
Everyone experiences anxiety at different points in their lives.
Anxiety itself is not inherently bad. For some people, the feeling serves as motivation to complete a task, or others may perceive it as excitement toward a new activity. However, some individuals experience anxiety to a debilitating extent, disrupting their daily lives.
Before we discuss methods to help loved ones who struggle with anxiety, it is crucial to recognize the common types and how they manifest.
What are the different types of anxiety, and what do they look like?
- Separation anxiety disorder
Individuals who have separation anxiety disorder experience excessive anxiety or fear when separated from their home or the people to whom they’ve grown attached.
People with this concern may withdraw from others, experience sadness, demonstrate a lack of interest, and have difficulty concentrating. However, simply missing someone does not mean the diagnosis is present.
Individuals with this concern illustrate:
- Continuous and excessive distress
- Worry that something terrible may happen
- Refuse to leave the household
- Have nightmares
- Describe physical complaints about separating from the home or to whom they’re attached
- Specific phobia
Individuals with a specific phobia diagnosis experience excessive fear or anxiety when an object or situation is present. People with this issue may engage in avoidance behaviors or experience physical arousal when confronted with the feared object or situation.
Nevertheless, feeling scared is normal and part of the human experience. What differentiates people with a specific phobia are that their feelings are severe, their emotions are evoked when presented with the object or situation, the feelings are inconsistent with the actual danger posed, and they may partake in avoidance behaviors.
- Social anxiety disorder
Individuals with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder experience severe fear or anxiety in social situations where they may be scrutinized or negatively judged.
People with this concern may blush, tremble, sweat, or stumble over their words. Alternatively, they may take charge of a conversation, have a rigid body posture, or speak with an overly soft voice.
This comment does not mean that people who are introverted, extroverted, or shy have a social anxiety disorder. Instead, people with this diagnosis fear that others may negatively judge them during social situations, leading to their disapproval or accidentally offending someone.
People with a diagnosis of agoraphobia experience fear or anxiety about an actual or possible exposure to multiple situations, including:
- Using public transportation
- Being in open spaces
- Being in enclosed spaces
- Standing in line
- Being in a crowd
- Being outside the home alone, among other situations
Individuals with this concern may find it difficult to leave their homes, rely on others for assistance (i.e., groceries), can feel demoralized or depressed. Some people prefer to stay at home, which is perfectly fine.
What differentiates people with a diagnosis of agoraphobia is that they avoid certain situations because they believe escaping from them will be difficult or assistance to leave the situation may not be available.
- Generalized anxiety disorder
Individuals with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder experience excessive worry or anxiety about multiple issues. Unlike the other disorders where the anxiety could be traced to an object, situation, or individual, in this diagnosis, the anxiety is around most things.
People with a generalized anxiety disorder may experience muscle tension, trembling, twitching, muscle aches, soreness, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, stress, and headaches, to name a few physical symptoms.
Feeling worried about a job or the outcome of an exam is normal. What differentiates people with this diagnosis is that their anxiety has reached a level of severity that affects their daily lives. Their worry isn’t about one or two things but how they navigate the world around them.
Clinical treatments for anxiety:
Encourage them to undergo psychotherapy with a trained professional
Psychotherapy is highly recommended to treat different forms of anxiety. Therapy involves speaking with a trained professional about the presenting concern and working through the issue in therapy.
One method used in the therapeutic context is psychoeducation which consists of educating the individual about their condition and the physiological symptoms they may experience.
While there are multiple therapeutic approaches to treating anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most empirically validated interventions.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the individual becomes aware of how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected and strives to change one of these three aspects to create an overall change in relation to their anxiety.
Use prescribed psychotropic medications
Psychotropic medication can also be used, depending on the severity of the anxiety and if it’s clinically indicated.
The most common forms of medication for anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRI). However, it’s essential to speak with a psychiatrist or a medical professional to determine if that’s the best option.
How to help someone with anxiety:
Empathize and “normalize” the situation
Witnessing someone experience anxiety from the outside might not make sense. Even if you cannot comprehend them, empathizing makes a difference.
Let them know they are not alone in their struggle
For instance, stating, “What you’re going through must be hard; I’m sorry you’re going through that,” or “If you need support, please let me know.”
By empathizing, you are communicating to the individual that they are not alone in their difficulties, strengthening their support system.
Consider sharing your anxiety experience
Another method to empathize is recalling when you experienced anxiety and if you feel comfortable sharing the story. Even though you’re not experiencing the exact emotion, a part of you can begin to understand, which leads to emotional depth and the creation of safety between you and the other person.
Normalization is equally important, but its usage depends on the individual. When you normalize, you acknowledge that the situation or emotion is normal and that other people experience it. For instance, “It’s normal to feel worried.”
The purpose of normalization is to help the individual feel less ostracized and alone in their difficulties. However, this technique can also be invalidating depending on the individual. For that reason, I reserve normalization for individuals who negatively label themselves.
Suggest meditation and belly breathing
Advising a loved one to take a couple of minutes from their day is an effective method to address anxiety.
Research has demonstrated that meditation reduces anxiety symptoms. It works because it helps people attune to themselves and gain awareness of the present moment.
A core issue surrounding anxiety is the inability to stay in the present because the focus is on the future. More often than not, clients that present with anxiety create hypothetical scenarios and act accordingly even though their reality doesn’t reflect those situations.
For that reason, the ability to stay present is crucial for people that are struggling with anxiety.
There are also multiple forms of meditation, which includes:
- Focusing on your awareness
- A sensation
- Utilizing a mantra
However, suggesting meditation might not be enough. Instead, offering to practice meditation with the individual might increase their likelihood of trying this technique.
Another way to help a loved one is by suggesting belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. When you breathe in deeply, you activate an automatic process within your body called the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows you to experience calmness and relaxation. In turn, this process reduces symptoms of anxiety.
To perform this exercise, you place one hand on your chest and another on top of your stomach, which is under your ribcage. Then you slowly breathe in through your nose.
Afterward, you hold your breath for a couple of seconds and breathe out more air than you inhaled. During this process, your stomach should be moving outward, not your chest.
It’s a simple but empowering exercise because individuals can learn how to relax their bodies at any time by controlling their breathing.
Use guided imagery and cold water
Another way to help a loved one is by asking them to imagine a place that elicits feelings of peace or calmness.
In moments of anxiety, the individual can recall the peaceful place through visualization. In doing so, their anxiety lessens because it’s intended to have a soothing effect.
Using cold water is an emotionally regulative tool that can also be applied to anxiety. In a moment of distress, the individual can hold an ice cube for seven to ten seconds or splash their face with cold water.
Both exercises aim to decrease your heart rate, regulate your body temperature, and reorient the person to the present. In doing so, the individual won’t have time to focus on their anxious thoughts.
Do exercise in combination with therapy
While the research has demonstrated mixed findings about exclusively using exercise to reduce worry, working out in combination with therapy has decreased anxiety. More specifically, yoga has reduced anxiety symptoms, especially for individuals with more severe forms of anxiety.
Seek professional assistance for moderate to severe anxiety
When you demonstrate empathy, understanding, and support, it helps more than you know. The strategies covered in this article are simple tools that people with anxiety can use or that loved ones can share. However, it’s not intended to replace therapy.
If someone you know is severely or moderately affected by anxiety, please seek professional assistance. There are trained professionals who can help with this mental health issue. Neither you nor your loved one has to be alone in this process.
Esther Ogbonda, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor | Founder and Owner, Rewired Mind Counseling
Understand what anxiety is first
Fear triggers one of three basic responses hard-wired into our neural networks by natural selection: fight, flight, or freeze. One of these reactions is more likely to be the norm for a given individual.
For instance, when my partner is overwhelmed with anxiety, she tends to shut off and bury her head in the sand. When I’m under pressure, I have a greater propensity to argue and become hostile, too critical, and rigid in my beliefs.
See what kind of help they need
Rather than assuming, find out from the person being supported what kind of help they would want.
According to studies, people with an avoidant attachment style (usually those who have suffered rejection in caregiving or relationships in the past) are more likely to react positively to strong shows of tangible, practical support.
One way to accomplish this is to support the anxious person while still respecting their independence and autonomy by:
- Helping them break down large chores into smaller, more manageable ones.
- Discussing potential responses to challenging situations, such as how to handle an angry email.
Gather insights before acting
Your loved one’s ability to recognize the occurrence of anxious patterns depends on their awareness of those patterns. When my partner understands that my irritability and fussiness are manifestations of my work-related worry, it helps me tremendously.
Due to our familiarity with one another’s habits and mutual respect, we are able to call each other out on their bad routines. Though not always received with kindness, the point eventually makes itself known.
Help them to calm down
Support your loved one better by learning about cognitive-behavioral models of anxiety, either reading up on them or sitting in on treatment sessions. However, in its place, you may want to try out some methods that have proven useful for those dealing with anxiety.
People who suffer from anxiety often dwell on the worst possible outcomes.
With the use of a cognitive therapy approach, you may persuade them to step back and look at the situation from a different angle by having them answer the following three questions:
- What’s the worst that could happen?
- What’s the best that could happen?
- What’s most realistic or likely?
Never make their decisions for them
Because avoidance is so central to anxiety, well-intentioned people may feel compelled to “help out” by doing things for their avoidant loved ones, which may actually reinforce their avoidance.
If, for instance, you often wind up making your nervous roommate’s phone calls for them, they may never learn to overcome their fear of doing so.
Don’t let them feel weak while helping them
How can we help those whose problems are more severe?
People who suffer from conditions including panic disorder, depressive anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive thoughts (particularly those associated with eating disorders) may worry that they are losing their minds.
The thought of assisting them may seem impossible — so you must find a balance between helping them and letting them handle the situation. Otherwise, you will end up making their condition even worse.
Protect your mental state while assisting them with their anxiety
Keep in mind that you’re not trying to fix the problem or take away the person’s worries; you’re just trying to assist. Anxiety manifests itself in over-responsibility, so watch out that you don’t fall into that trap.
It’s important to remember that your encouragement may take many forms than addressing specific phobias or fears. For instance, the stress-relieving effects of exercise can inspire you to suggest a simple outing like a stroll or a yoga session.
It’s okay to set boundaries for your assistance. It’s far more probable that a chat that lasts 20 minutes while taking a stroll will be productive (and less tiring) than a discussion that lasts two hours straight in an office.
Ryan S. Sultan, M.D.
Board-Certified Adult and Child Psychiatrist | Founder and Director, Integrative Psych
Let them feel that you understand what they are going through
Anxiety is a very common condition. Among the US adult population, one out of three will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
There are many types of anxiety. These include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and even OCD.
For this article, we will focus on GAD, a highly common anxiety disorder. Those with GAD are prone to having excessive worries and concerns about the impact of events. This worry can be debilitating and paralyzing.
Why should we care about anxiety?
Historically, anxiety has been dismissed by many as a personal weakness rather than a major mental health condition. Anxiety is normal and serves a protective evolutionary purpose.
The structure of modern civilization and lifestyle has created an environment where protective anxiety becomes pathological—resulting in suffering for the individual and, at times, those around them.
Untreated anxiety results in:
- Avoidance of important life experiences and events
- Increased risk for depression
- Premature aging and, in youth, delays in social, scholastic, and emotional development
Anxiety should be taken seriously. Severe anxiety is even linked to completed suicide. Individuals suffering from anxiety are also likely to develop substance use issues as a method of self-medicating.
Recognizing anxiety in others
Anxiety does not look the same in everyone. In some cases, it can be evident to the outside world. For example, people with anxiety may have physical signs, such as looking physically agitated and uncomfortable or displaying poor eye contact.
Other evidence of anxiety might be present in an individual’s conversation. For example, they may share future concerns and worries that are objectively excessive.
They might tell you about overthought plans and solutions against worst-case scenarios. They may require repeated reassurance and have trouble moving on from their worry.
In other cases, people are more quietly anxious. These people may appear awkward or uncomfortable in interpersonal situations. They may identify as being introverted or shy (both of which are highly correlated with anxiety).
They may also avoid interpersonal situations as much as possible and largely keep to themselves or have a tiny group of people that they interact with. While these individuals may not be sharing their anxieties, they are internally experiencing many of the same worries that someone with visible anxiety has.
Short-term solutions for anxious friends and family
Supporting those that are actively struggling with anxiety can be challenging as many of us want to take action to fix a friend or loved one’s problem.
While this may reduce someone’s anxiety temporarily around that specific concern, it is likely only a band-aid solution. Further, the individual may not want you to take action, as there are often situations where no clear action is available.
For example, if an individual is experiencing active anxiety waiting to hear back from an important job interview or college application, there is often no specific helpful action that can be taken.
Instead of resolving an issue for someone, provide validating statements to them. For example, “I understand you’re worried during this time of uncertainty about the outcome of the job interview. I understand that it is hard to wait and not know the outcome of this important event.”
Helping someone feel that you understand what they are going through will reduce their anxiety.
Provide reality-based reassurance
Other short-term solutions to reduce the suffering of a loved one or friend with anxiety include providing reassurance. This reassurance should be reality-based, not false or overgeneralized.
For example, rather than telling someone that “everything is going to be okay,” you might say to them, “You prepared hard for that interview and gave it your all. You are a qualified candidate.”
Encourage those with anxiety to utilize calming techniques
Avoid telling a person with anxiety to calm down. This is invalidating to them. A patient of mine once told her husband after he told her to calm down: “Stop telling me to calm down. If I knew how to calm down, I wouldn’t act like this!”
Instead, encourage those with anxiety to utilize calming techniques—for example, deep breathing exercises or guided meditation. Joining your friend or family member in these techniques will increase the likelihood they are effective.
While these recommendations can be helpful in acutely reducing the suffering of a friend or family member with anxiety, they are unlikely to provide a long-term and sustained improvement on their own.
Long-term solutions to anxiety
Medication and therapy
As a friend or family member, you are limited in your ability to heal another’s anxiety. Providing support through alternative solutions, including reassurance, validation, and calming techniques, will mitigate your friend or loved one’s anxiety; however, it is unlikely to resolve their issue.
Thankfully, we live in the 21st century, where many effective treatments for healing individuals with anxiety disorders exist. Safe, non-dependence-forming medications, such as SSRIs and SNRIs, reduce the suffering associated with anxiety for most people.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly effective and well-established psychotherapy treatment for anxiety.
If you have a friend or loved one who you believe is suffering from anxiety, please encourage them to get an evaluation by a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or psychologist who could provide medication treatment and CBT.
In combination, medication and CBT can permanently improve the lives of those with anxiety.
Jan Newman, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Performance Coach | Founder, Momentum Psychology
Remind the person they can do hard things by following it with validation
To understand how to help someone with anxiety, it is essential to remember the three different aspects of it:
- Physiological (e.g., sympathetic nervous system signals that can be uncomfortable, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, stomach discomfort)
- Cognitive (e.g., excessive worry, thoughts stuck on a loop)
- Behavioral (e.g., avoidance of the feared person, thing, or situation that interferes with day-to-day life).
When you have tools to address these different aspects, the excellent news about anxiety disorders is that they can get better. Although there can be a genetic predisposition towards anxiety disorders, what creates and sustains anxiety is often learned and involves a relationship between the person and their environment.
Interpersonal nature of anxiety
When we feel worried about something, most of us seek support from someone we care about. However, when someone struggles with an anxiety disorder, this can look different.
People with anxiety disorders try to find ways to avoid anxiety, and they will, usually completely unintentionally, pull people they care about into helping them to avoid experiencing anxiety.
A common way this happens is by seeking reassurance from another person. This might be asking a family member for reassurance repeatedly. It could be asking for advice from people on social media. However, if it happens, behaviors that enlist others to help them avoid anxiety will maintain it.
Here are a few ways you can help a person with anxiety that addresses each of these three aspects:
The physiological sigh
You can remind the other person that having a sympathetic nervous system response is what the brain does to call us to action. The response is normal and healthy. It’s uncomfortable because it’s not appropriate for the context.
If they were running, the rapid heart rate would feel fine, but sitting still feels uncomfortable. What can you do about it? A quick way to help someone lower their heart rate is the physiological sigh. It involves taking two quick, deep inhales followed by a slow 5-count exhale.
Exposure and response prevention
People struggling with anxiety engage in behaviors that help them avoid experiencing anxiety, which could include people, places, activities, and situations that are meaningful to them.
People struggling with social anxiety might love to be around people but avoid invitations to parties because they fear they will say something wrong.
Unsurprisingly, one of the primary methods of treating anxiety is helping people disobey their urge to avoid and move towards the things that matter to them anyway through exposure and response prevention.
You don’t try to help them get rid of the anxiety first. It’s coming with them. The question is, are they willing to walk through that to get to something they love?
If you care about someone struggling with anxiety, and it’s appropriate, you could talk to them about what they want to do and how anxiety might interfere. They might want an accountability partner to help them lean in to do the hard things instead of avoiding them.
When choosing something, it’s best if the person’s motivation to do the feared thing is higher than their fear of it. Anxiety disorders are treated with gradual exposure, not flooding.
When you see yourself disobey the anxious thoughts and the feared thing doesn’t happen, the avoidance starts to fade through a process called “habituation.”
Validate their emotion, not the person’s unhelpful thoughts
Most thoughts relating to anxiety are about uncertainty. Human beings crave certainty. When someone is struggling with anxiety, they will often seek reassurance from people they love or trust to give them a sense of certainty to handle these thoughts.
This can sound like, “Do you think he’s mad at me? He hasn’t texted me in a while. I think he’s going to break up with me.”
For most people, the normal response would be to try to comfort the person, so, for example: “No, I don’t think that. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.” This strategy not only does not work but also helps to maintain anxiety.
You’ve stepped into a trap. You actually don’t know for sure there’s nothing to worry about, and the other person’s brain catches that because all it’s focused on is certainty. So, they might provide more information, ask you again, or ask someone else, but they will keep it up.
For someone struggling with anxiety, instead of providing repeated reassurance, you would want to take two steps:
- Validate what’s valid. Validate their emotion, not the person’s unhelpful thoughts. The goal is to convey that the person’s feelings make sense. This could be something as simple as “This is hard” or, more complex, “It makes sense that you feel [insert an emotion] because of [your best guess at the reason.].”
- Express confidence. Reassurance-seeking involves a loss of autonomy. Remind the person they can do hard things by following validation: “I believe you can do the hard thing.”
Putting it all together might sound like the example above: “This is really hard, and I believe in you and that you’ll work through it.”
Natasha Deen, LCPC, NCC
Certified Brainspotting Therapist | Owner, Operator, and Psychotherapist, Golden Hour Counseling
Don’t tell them to “calm down” “that’s not something to be upset about” or anything similar
These types of statements never help! It can be patronizing and dismissing to hear. It can often create more anxiety.
Instead, say something that sends the message that you want to help. Maybe the person is talking so fast or crying, and you can’t comprehend what they’re saying.
Try saying, “I can tell you’re upset, and I’m having a hard time understanding what’s happening. Let’s take some deep breaths first; then, we can talk more about what’s going on.”
This gives the person something to do to help calm them, reassures them that you want to support them, and communicates your concern about not being able to understand them. This approach will help the person feel like you’re on their side.
Understand how anxiety works
Anxiety can range from feeling nervous about thoughts that won’t leave your mind all the way up to a panic attack. It’s important to have an idea of where on that scale someone is in experiencing their present state of anxiety.
If they are on the lower end of the spectrum, then being a supportive listener or perhaps brainstorming solutions may be all the help they need.
If they are more in the middle ground, they may need some help seeing the bigger picture or knowing what might happen since anxiety stems from a fear of the unknown.
If someone is on the higher end of the spectrum, they may be close to a panic attack, and in those moments, the most effective thing to do is engage in breathing techniques to help calm the body and the mind.
When our bodies feel anxious (i.e., shakey, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, feeling like you can’t breathe, etc.), our minds go into panic mode too. It works in the opposite way as well.
If our minds are filled with racing or negative thoughts, our bodies also experience that anxiety. In the more intense moments of anxiety, it can be easier to calm our bodies through breathing and grounding than to calm our minds. When we feel anxious, we can enter into fight or flight mode.
As sophisticated as our brains are, it has difficulty differentiating between real and perceived danger. Our anxious thoughts are perceived as a danger, but our brains interpret them as physical threats and prepare our bodies to fight or flee.
When we are in a state of fight or flight, we lose access to the prefrontal cortex of our brain. This is the part that is responsible for higher executive functioning, such as planning ahead, thinking critically, and problem-solving.
Therefore, when someone is experiencing more intense anxiety, they are unable to think through situations logically.
Be empathetic and understanding
Really listen to what the person is saying. It can help to imagine how you’d feel in a similar situation. Hear the situation from their perspective and what you know about them.
For example, maybe your friend is anxious about not being able to find a job, and you know they have been applying for months and have gotten a handful of interviews and continue to be turned down. That would make anyone anxious. Also, consider that the person may not be able to think through things rationally.
Be patient and give them time to come out of their anxious state
For someone who isn’t experiencing anxiety, it’s easy to see the bigger picture. It may be frustrating when you know something sounds unrealistic, but your loved one is worried about it.
Be patient with them and know that in their anxious state, they’re not in a position where they can see a situation from the same perspective as you see it. Give them time to come out of their anxious state to see things differently.
Be a listening ear rather than a problem solver
For many of us, there are times when we don’t need advice; we need to vent or say the things that are plaguing our minds to release it all. It can also feel validating to share how we’re feeling with someone and have them listen actively and empathetically.
Related: How to Respond to Someone Venting
There are many times when people know what they need to do to solve their problems, it’s just difficult experiencing the problem, and it helps to talk about it.
Ask what they need
Most people tend to go into problem-solving mode when a loved one comes to them upset or anxious. Naturally, we don’t like seeing the people we care for upset, and we want to help them. However, this may not be what they need now, so it’s important to ask.
You can also give them options if they’re unsure what they need. You can ask if they want advice, need a hug, want to talk through things, just have you listen, etc.
Help them ground themselves
Depending on how anxious a person is, they may need to focus on just breathing or grounding themselves so they can get out of the negative downward spiral that might be going on in their mind.
You can help someone ground themselves by doing deep breathing together.
One breathing technique is to inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. You can also have them hold your hands, look at you, and talk to them to keep them focused on you and in the present moment.
Another great way to help someone get out of their head is to place a cold cloth on their head or put their hands in cold water or give them a slice of lemon to eat. These are just a few examples of how to “shock” their system and have them shift their focus to the present moment.
Laura Bonk, MA, PLPC
Therapist, Heartland Therapy Connection
Anxiety, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Whether we like it or not, anxiety is a natural part of everyday life. It is a survival instinct to help us focus our attention on something that may present as a threat.
However, if anxiety levels become excessive, consuming all of our energy, and interfering with day-to-day life, then it becomes a diagnosable problem.
The majority of clients that I see in my daily practice struggle mightily with breaking free of prison; that is anxiety.
Here are a few easy-to-apply tips for coping with and reducing the impacts of anxiety.
Simply be with them
Anxiety can be a very lonely experience. The most important way you can help someone struggling with anxiety is simply by being with them. Listen to them. Give them space to say whatever they need to say. Listen and try to make them feel understood. Don’t judge their thoughts or try to fix their problems.
Do not say, “Just stop thinking about it.” Saying something like this will likely leave them feeling unheard and like something is wrong with them. Anxiety is never as easy as that.
Instead of sitting and talking, go on a walk with them. Walking helps the brain process more deeply. Encourage them to start daily routines, including some form of exercise. You can also encourage them to start journaling and relaxation exercises (see below).
Even within the therapy room, the relationship between the client and therapist is the most important factor for change. When trying to help someone with anxiety, they need to feel like you care, are safe with you, and are not alone in what they’re going through.
Let them practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is perhaps one of the strongest weapons against anxiety. There are several ways in which to incorporate mindfulness into daily life.
A great place to start is by creating either morning or evening rituals that include guided mindfulness meditation. It’s crucial to remember that mindfulness requires dedication.
For these tips to be effective, you need to implement them regularly in your daily life. The brain is rewired through repetition and emotion; thus, you need to practice these regularly to “fire and wire” new neuropathways.
Mindfulness can also be found through grounding exercises. A good tool to have in your pocket is what’s called “5 Senses Grounding.”
In this exercise, you’ll use all of your senses to help keep yourself grounded in the present moment rather than being swept up into the swirling spiral of anxiety.
Here’s how you do it:
- Step 1: Name 5 things you can see (i.e., pillows, windows, artwork, etc.) and make sure that you’re not just noticing them but that you actually see the details within them.
- Step 2: Name 4 things you can feel (clothing, sofa, blanket, shoes on your feet, etc.).
- Step 3: Name 3 things that you can hear (air conditioning, voices in the background, traffic, wind, your breathing).
- Step 4: Name 2 things that you smell (candles, laundry detergent from your clothing, deodorant that you’re wearing, flowers).
- Step 5: Name 1 thing you can taste (maybe you’re chewing gum or drinking a cup of coffee or tea. Maybe it’s just the taste of your mouth).
The goal of this exercise is not only to name the items but actually experience them. This will keep you grounded at the moment.
We spend so much of our lives racing through the thoughts in our minds. Forcing ourselves to focus on the present moment will not only reduce anxiety but will also lead to a more fulfilling way of life. Don’t miss the moments that make up your life!
Another great grounding exercise is called 7-11 Breathing. It sounds so simple, but our breathing has a significant impact on managing anxiety.
In this exercise, breathe in through your nose for 7 seconds and then exhale through your mouth for 11 seconds. Make sure you’re breathing from your diaphragm (place one hand on your stomach to feel it move up and down with each breath).
These deep and slow breaths help signal to your brain that you are safe and that there is no current danger present.
Practice cognitive diffusion—actively take the power away from painful thoughts
Most of the time, anxiety is caused by thoughts that are running through our minds. These thoughts can be conscious or subconscious. An extremely helpful tool is something called “cognitive diffusion.”
This process requires identifying the anxiety-producing thought, for example, “I’m going to lose my job.” Once we’ve identified the thought, we can start “diffusing” it by creating distance between ourselves and the thought.
In a sense, it’s about taking control of our thoughts. When we repeat the idea “I’m going to lose my job” repeatedly in our heads, it’s going to feel very heavy, true, and—yes—of course, it’s going to cause a lot of anxiety.
Now, add a few extra words to that phrase, “I feel like I’m going to lose my job.” Immediately you can sense the shift from the heaviness caused by the first statement to the lighter feeling of “I feel like…”
Now, add a little bit more, “I notice that I’m feeling like I’m going to lose my job.” Again, you can immediately feel the shift. This process is called cognitive diffusion because you actively take the power away from painful thoughts.
Instead of getting pulled down into the spiral of negative thinking, it’s as if you’re standing on the side of the spiral looking into it. Thoughts are just thoughts, nothing more.
Developing the ability to observe your thoughts gives you control over them and decreases the impact that negative thinking has on your mental health.
Rosana Nava, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Behavioral Health Clinical Manager, Families Together of Orange County
Be patient with individuals with anxiety
Do not push them into situations they are not comfortable experiencing. Sometimes we may think that as soon as someone with anxiety is in a scary situation (i.e., crowds, a social situation, etc.), they will then relax and “get over it.”
However, the opposite is often true. Pushing someone to do something that causes anxiety can actually increase the feelings of nervousness and discomfort for that person.
Be understanding and offer space for them to talk about it if they want to share
Be understanding that anxiety can be very uncomfortable and scary for someone living with those feelings. Anxiety can be overwhelming and can be an everyday, multiple times a-day occurrence. It can cause a person to avoid certain situations that increase anxiety and, in extreme cases, can be unbearable.
Try to validate the person’s feelings and offer a space for the person to talk about it if they want to share.
Thank the individual for sharing their feelings with you
It is not always easy for individuals with anxiety to admit they experience these feelings. When they do, it helps decrease stigma and shame to acknowledge that what they have shared is important and that you value what they have chosen to share.
Offer choices when possible
When someone with anxiety is able to have some control over the situation, it helps to lessen the anxiety and increase feelings of happiness.
Talk to them about therapy
Sometimes people hesitate to seek therapy or bring it up to friends for fear of judgment. Normalize that therapy can be helpful and offer to help them find a therapist near them.
Do not minimize the anxiety by saying things like, “Well, everyone is nervous about something,” “You just need to get over it,” or “Why would anyone be scared about that?” These types of comments can create shame and guilt or even increase feelings of anxiety.
What to do if someone is experiencing an overwhelming feeling of anxiety or having a panic attack
If you notice that someone is becoming overwhelmed by their feelings of anxiety or is having a panic attack (difficulty breathing, sweating, racing heart), there are a couple of things you can do to try to help them calm down and deescalate:
Use a soft and reassuring tone of voice and let them know they are in a safe space (if they are not in a safe space, try to create a safe space for them or guide them to a place they would feel safe).
Ask if they want help or need some space, and honor their request.
If they would like you to stay, try practicing deep breathing exercises with them if they can (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds). Repeat until the person can regulate their breathing.
Try to have them engage all of their senses so that they are able to ground themselves in the present. Ask them to describe what they are seeing. What can they hear? Give them something with a pleasant smell and something to taste (sour candy can be great as a grounding mechanism). Lastly, try giving them a fidget toy or something to touch with an interesting texture.
Use guided imagery or guided meditation if they can engage. There are lots of apps and videos accessible from your phone that you can play to help someone relax.
If the person is asking for medical attention, seems unable to regulate, or is escalating, or you are concerned it is an emergency, please call 9-1-1.
Make yourself available and listen closely
There are a variety of things you can do to help someone you know deal with their anxiety. The most important thing you can do to support them is to make yourself available and to listen closely. Be a good friend. Do not judge. Remind them that they are not alone.
Millions of Americans experience anxiety! In some cases, verbally processing their experiences will help them determine the best course of action. The act of revealing their feelings of anxiety and talking about it may even make it dissipate.
When someone is talking with you about their anxiety, take them seriously. It is important to avoid minimizing the individual’s struggles or trying to talk them out of it, even if their worries do not make sense to you.
Remember: when someone is sharing their concerns, they are being trusting and vulnerable.
Pointing to easy-to-use and accessible resources can be critical in helping someone longer-term
For example, many schools and corporations have instituted programs designed to support mental wellness.
Text-based apps such as Counslr, a 24/7/365 platform that connects the user with a licensed counselor within a few minutes, are one of the many solutions available in today’s world that can allow quicker, easier access to mental health support than ever before.
Users can begin a confidential text chat when the problem is small and perhaps only slightly bothersome. There’s no need to wait until that molehill becomes a mountain!
Another route you can take is advising them to consider speaking with a mental health professional face to face and to get a thorough assessment, including a medication evaluation. In cases of severe or chronic anxiety, medication may be helpful, but only when prescribed and monitored by a qualified physician.
When should you seek help for anxiety?
The best time to seek help is sooner rather than later. Be proactive. Seek help when the problem is small before it becomes a larger, more complex issue. Speaking with a professional or a trusted source, such as a parent or friend, can help normalize feelings and may lead to treatment.
Many people are also living with similar concerns, and they may have advice—or just be there to listen.
How do you recognize if someone is experiencing anxiety?
To help those who are anxious, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety.
Pay attention to their body language, e.g., breathing rapidly, trembling, and/or sweating. The individual may also express feeling weak, that they have an increased heart rate, trouble focusing or sleeping loss of appetite, or similar physical symptoms.
Be especially attuned to major changes in their manner and activities. Are they avoiding situations they used to enjoy? Do they seem excessively preoccupied or worried about little things they used to handle with ease?
What are tips and- tricks to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety?
- Progressive desensitization
In addition to talking with a trusted friend or family member, some tips and tricks to alleviate or mitigate anxiety are to, ironically, have more but gradual exposure to the object or situation that is causing the anxiety. This is called progressive desensitization and is best done under the care of a qualified professional.
- Regular deep breathing, relaxation, and mindfulness practices
Regular deep breathing, relaxation, and mindfulness practices can also effectively combat anxiety. Aerobic exercise and yoga also have major physical and hence, mental health benefits.
- Find lightness, even humor—in some situations
It can sometimes help to find lightness, even humor—in some situations. The trick is to remove the power and “toxicity” of the situation. This allows the person to acknowledge what is happening, experience it in a light-hearted way, and become less rattled by it, vs. avoiding the situation entirely.
Learning to think, “Hey, it’s just a silly little spider, not a ferocious monster,” may calm such fears and phobias. But it takes time and practice!
- Engaging in the creative arts can also help
Children and even adolescents naturally express their thoughts and feelings through art, music, and dance—and they often play through or replay their fears and frustrations. There are some good lessons here for adults!
Writing stories or poetry about fears and anxiety may also help them move through their problems—and get through to the other side. Having a permanent record and regularly reflecting on one’s creations may lead to developing better strategies for handling those anxiety-producing situations the next time they arise.
Is there a cure for anxiety?
Many phobias, social anxiety, and other anxiety disorders can be successfully treated with and without medication. And self-help approaches can significantly alleviate many of the symptoms.
Those who live with anxiety can find ways to manage and, in some cases, overcome it when they have the right tools and treatment, support, and the commitment to “do the work.”
Katie McLaughlin, MA, LPCC, CCATP
Anxiety Therapist | Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor | Owner, Cedar Rose Counseling & Wellness, LLC
Let them know they are not a burden
When someone is struggling with anxiety, it can feel as though they no longer have control over their thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Every decision feels as though it stems from a place of desperation.
This can be an extremely isolating experience, made even worse when friends and loved ones express frustration with them.
With such a deep desire for connection to others, anxiety can make us believe that we are alone in the struggle and that no one around us would ever truly want to hear about the inner workings of our mind.
Simply reminding them every now and again that they are appreciated, that they are not the anxiety that plagues them, and that you are always there for them can really go a long way in supporting them.
Have an open conversation
Start a conversation about how you can best help them when they are feeling anxious.
Doing this in the moment of anxiety can just add to the overwhelm and frustration, so try having this conversation when you both are in a good headspace. Doing so can promote a healthy dialogue about their experience and how you can best support them.
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
“What triggers your anxiety?”
It is entirely possible that they may not know why they feel so anxious. Anxiety is even more uncomfortable and frightening when we don’t know why we are experiencing this fear response.
Asking this question helps them to identify their triggers while also helping you to understand when they will need the most support.
“What helps you to feel calm and safe?”
Simply asking this question gives them an opportunity to review what has helped them in the past. You can even work together to write these down, so they have an action plan for the next time they feel anxious.
“How can I best support you when you are feeling anxious?”
They likely already know what is not helpful, and while this can act as a starting point, try working together to come up with some behaviors you can engage in to assist them when their anxiety is heightened.
- Do they need a hug?
- Would they prefer to be left alone?
- Does it help them to talk about their anxiety?
It may take some trial and error attempts, but together you can figure out what works the best.
Do your research to understand them better
It can be challenging to truly understand someone with an anxious mind when you haven’t experienced this type of inner turmoil before.
Simply doing a quick google search lets them know that you really do care. Plus, that info will give you a glimpse into what anxiety is actually like so you have a better understanding as you go into collaborative conversations about what will help them.
Practicing empathy can facilitate healthy communication
It’s easy to become frustrated with anxious loved ones when we view their behaviors as a personal attack.
For instance, if your partner struggles with separation anxiety and calls or texts multiple times when you don’t respond in your typical fashion, it may be your first instinct to think: “They are being so clingy! Don’t they trust me?”
More than likely, though, your partner is calling and texting multiple times out of love and out of fear. Perhaps their brain is telling them that something bad must have happened to you, so they are desperately reaching out to hear your voice to know you’re okay.
Practicing empathy and understanding the “why” behind their behavior will decrease your own frustration — you’ll know how to support them best and facilitate helpful communication.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | CEO, Huntington Psychological Services, Inc.
Anxiety is a common mental health condition that can cause feelings of fear, worry, or stress. It can be triggered by life events like going through a difficult time or having a traumatic experience.
Many people with anxiety also experience physical symptoms, such as:
- Heart palpitations
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
If you know someone with anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help them manage their condition and feel better:
Educate yourself about anxiety
It’s important to understand the basics of anxiety in order to be supportive and helpful to someone who is struggling. Read books or articles online or watch YouTube videos that explain what anxiety is, how it affects people, and what treatments are available.
Listen to your friend
Let them express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Ask questions in a non-intrusive way that shows you care about their well-being.
Reassure them that they’re not alone and you’re there to support them. Just being present and emotionally available for your friend can sometimes be the best medicine.
Encourage healthy lifestyle habits
Constantly worrying can take a physical and emotional toll on one’s body.
Exercise, good nutrition, and plenty of sleep are essential for managing anxiety. Encourage your friend to take up a physical activity they enjoy or suggest relaxing activities like yoga or meditation.
Suggest professional help
If your friend’s symptoms become more severe or don’t improve, it may be a sign that they need professional help. Talk to them about seeing a mental health practitioner, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, who can provide proper assessment and treatment.
Related: What to Look For in a Therapist
If they are too anxious to meet with someone in person, online therapy has also become a popular option.
Be there for them
Staying connected with your friend is key to helping them cope with their anxiety. Regularly check in with them to see how they’re doing and remind them that you’re there for support.
Letting them know that they can talk to you about their anxiety can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand.
Spend time together doing enjoyable activities
Suggest activities that your friend will find enjoyable and relaxing. This could be going for a walk in nature or engaging in an activity that both of you enjoy, such as watching a movie or tv show or grabbing a bite to eat.
Help them break down tasks into manageable parts
Anxiety can make it hard to focus on getting tasks done. Offer to help your friend by breaking bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable parts and helping them stay on track.
Offer practical help
Depending on the severity of your friend’s anxiety, they may need extra help with day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping or cleaning. Offer to lend a hand so they don’t feel overwhelmed while they work on developing anxiety management skills.
Help them find positive coping methods
There are many positive coping methods that can help reduce anxiety. Examples include journaling, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Encourage your friend to find a technique they like and practice it regularly. There are also many great anxiety workbooks on Amazon.
Be patient — don’t expect them to instantly start feeling better
It’s important to remember that healing takes time. Don’t expect your friend to instantly start feeling better. Anxiety is a learned behavior that takes time to learn and also time to unlearn.
Be patient, supportive, and consistent in your efforts to help them manage their anxiety.
Go for a massage or spa day together
Taking time out of your day to relax and reconnect with your friend can be beneficial for both of you. A massage or a spa day together can help relieve stress, improve mood, and allow you to connect with one another.
Take up art therapy
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses creative methods such as drawing, painting, and sculpture to help people express emotions and explore issues related to their mental health.
Suggesting art therapy can be a good way for your friend to process their anxiety in a creative way.
Suggest online resources
There are several online support groups and resources (like UpJourney) that your friend can use to learn more about managing their anxiety. Encourage them to explore these options and find out which works best for them.
Anxiety is a treatable condition, but it requires patience and understanding from those around the person suffering. With your help, your friend can get back on track and lead a healthier, happier life.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg, PhD
Psychotherapist | Behavioral Specialist, Quit It Now
First and foremost, don’t say things like: “It’s not that bad” or “Calm down.” People with anxiety hear these things all the time, and these words make them feel worse, not better.
You need to validate their feelings and let them know that it is okay not to be okay.
Here are some additional suggestions:
Remind them to practice wholesome self-care
Things like exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking part in fun activities can help to boost a person’s mood and keep anxiety at bay.
Encourage them to focus on things that they can control
Often, people who experience anxiety tend to view small problems as much larger than they really are. Typically, anxiety heightens over things that are out of their control.
It is important to acknowledge their concerns and help them focus on what they can control.
Remind them to seek help, but don’t push it
Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. If they are struggling to manage their anxiety, suggest that they seek professional help.
If they are in therapy and they were previously in therapy and stopped, it may have been due to a bad fit. Encourage them to try again with someone else.
Help them help themselves
Offer to do things to help them help themselves, such as babysitting their children while they are at therapy, going grocery shopping with them, or helping them with household chores or holiday gift wrapping.
Helping them cross things off their “to-do” list can help ease their emotional load, especially during difficult times. You want to help them help themselves, not become their enabler.
Be prepared to say “no”
Sometimes a person with anxiety will monopolize your time together by dwelling on their fears and concerns. Don’t try to be their amateur therapist.
Set boundaries for your relationship and your time together by telling them that while you care about them and want to know how they are feeling, it would be healthier for both of you to talk about other things.
You can also suggest engaging in an enjoyable activity together, like taking a walk or seeing a movie.
Let them know that we’re available as a non-judgmental sounding board
Anxiety can come in many forms and impact people in various ways. And it’s not just the individual suffering from anxiety that is impacted. Friends, family, and work colleagues are often directly or indirectly affected as well.
It can be challenging for some to come to grips with what they’re experiencing, and many don’t want to admit out loud that they’re struggling.
The best thing we can do is to let someone who is experiencing anxiety know that we’re available as a non-judgmental sounding board. Just “being there” can make a big difference in someone’s life.
That said, it’s important to understand that anxiety is a mental health issue. While we may want to offer advice on how someone can deal with it, without the appropriate context on why the anxiety exists, the type of anxiety, the triggers, and actionable steps to overcome it, we run the risk of doing more harm than good.
If someone is just feeling a little “blue,” then we can encourage them to take some of the steps that may be helpful.
Getting some exercise, changing their environment, spending time in nature, meditating, or encouraging them to write down their thoughts can all help someone move past a brief episode.
But if we get the sense that the anxieties are becoming debilitating—where we see the individual canceling social activities, not going to work or school, exhibiting behaviors that are out of the ordinary, or we’ve seen someone close to us have a real change in their personality—the best path forward is to encourage them to seek professional help and guidance.
We need to let them know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that trained professionals can help. Some individuals may want to research appropriate therapists in the area, as many who suffer from anxiety may not be comfortable doing that on their own.
But overall, helping someone acknowledge and cope with their anxiety needs to come from a place of compassion and care.
In short, pay attention; if your gut feeling is telling you something feels off with your friend or family member and they seem to be struggling, reach out to them, let them know you are there, and begin the path towards wellness.
Certified Master NLP Coach | Mental Health Coach, Talk with Fos
Be conscious and aware of what causes their anxiety
Here is an exercise I like using with my clients who experience anxiety, which is perhaps a little quirky and usual but always works wonders.
I call it “set the bar,” and it works like this: on a day when you’re not experiencing anxiety and you have a clear head, decide to set a super low bar for things to feel good and a super high bar for things to make you feel anxious.
For example, if your anxiety derives from the worry that a family member will be in a car crash or catch an incurable virus, you can say:
- “I will only allow myself to be anxious if person X travels to Papua New Guinea unvaccinated and plays with monkeys with no PPE on,” or
- “I will only allow myself to be anxious if person X tells me they are traveling on the highway against incoming traffic and their breaks don’t work, and there is a fighter jet over them trying to shoot them down.”
The reverse also works: “I will allow myself to feel calm the minute I wake up tomorrow, and I am alive and well.” Or, “I will be proud of myself by just getting out of bed and making coffee.”
Anxiety is a set of behavioral patterns we can choose to break by making the pattern super hard to follow.
We are all born with the ability to experience anxiety because anxiety is a wonderful evolutionary tool and inbuilt alert that allows us to stay away from and react to danger.
However, this inbuilt alert often misfires because we have trained ourselves to respond to anxiety because:
- We often joke about it – “oh my gosh, stop watching me eat. It makes me so anxious!”
- Overexposure to media – “Did you see that freak accident in LA? And there’s a mass shooter in Colombia. And the plague has resurfaced in Paris. It could be us next.”
- Parameters perpetuated by society – “I need to be married by 27, homeowner by 28, and the first baby by 29 latest or else!” or “Why am I so behind? Why am I failing? Are people talking about me?“
- We often don’t do a good job seeking help when experiencing anxiety, as it’s a lot of hard work, and there isn’t a simple magic pill to take, so it snowballs into a paralyzing, bottomless feeling of dread.
Studies have shown that there are biological and genetic components that make someone more prone to experiencing anxiety, but conversely, many solutions to tackle anxiety aren’t found in medicine but in behavioral pattern rewiring.
Being conscious and aware of what causes anxiety moves it from a place of blind and unconscious repetition into a place of deliberate awareness.
The goal here is to arrive at a place of neutrality, from where you can watch anxiety and say: “If it takes a left turn, I will partake in these feelings of doom and despair, and if I take a right turn, I will watch the situation with calm and decide with my active brain.”
You can break the loop. You can train your weaknesses. You can expose yourself to triggers till they are no longer triggers.
Theresa Timmons, LCSW
Psychotherapist and Founder, Timmons Therapy Solutions, LLC
When you have a friend, family member, partner, or anyone you care about who struggles with anxiety, all you want to do is help. The simple answer is to be present with them. That does not mean you have to be in front of them, but just giving them a little time while they regulate themselves can make all the difference.
Give them power when they feel out of control; ask them how they would like your support at this moment. This helps them feel empowered by being asked what they need. If they don’t know or can’t give you an answer, that’s ok too.
Let them vent; don’t give advice until asked, and don’t interrupt them
Let them get the worry out; this is probably the most important. I know you want to help, or you see it clearly but don’t give advice until asked, and don’t interrupt them; just let them vent. Sometimes they just want to be heard or have space to hear their anxiety triggers aloud.
Remind them there is no fire
Safety check with them; let them confirm with you that there is no immediate danger. This may get them to calm down and be reminded that although they feel physical or strong emotional responses to trigger they are safe.
Get them moving
Get them to move their body in some way; this could mean telling them or going with them for a walk, stretching, or jumping in place. This helps them release the negative or excess energy they may feel due to the anxiety.
Focus their attention elsewhere
You can also help a person with anxiety by getting them distracted. Get them to focus on their five senses by getting them or encouraging them to get something to eat or drink and describing it using the five senses.
You can do this same technique by naming objects that fit in each category. This helps refocus the brain and ultimately calms the person as they no longer think of their anxiety at the moment.
Licensed Psychotherapist | Holistic Wellness Coach
Educate yourself on the common symptoms and struggles of someone with anxiety
If you don’t struggle with anxiety, it can be very stressful and difficult to figure out how to best support someone that does.
One of the first things to understand is that everyone experiences anxiety differently, and there are many different types of anxiety, such as:
- Social anxiety
- Health anxiety
- Generalized anxiety
Educating yourself on the common symptoms and struggles of someone with anxiety can be very helpful so you can know what to look for. This can give you a sense of their worries and behavioral or other challenges they may face.
Ask your loved one how you can support them
One of the best things you can do is ask the person you care about how you can support them. It may be difficult for them to answer, but it can get them thinking about what they need from others in their lives so they feel supported and cared for.
For example, sometimes they may want you just to listen and validate how they may feel. Other times, they may want help solving a problem or some encouragement about something difficult they are trying to do or accomplish.
Letting them lead the way is very empowering for them, and it helps them feel supported.
Don’t minimize or discount their anxiety
Also, don’t say things to invalidate or minimize their anxiety.
For example, phrases like “You shouldn’t feel anxious about that” or “Just relax, there’s nothing to worry about” can make someone with anxiety feel more guilt, shame, or isolation because they feel they can’t open up to others about their emotional challenges.
Instead, adopt a perspective of curiosity and wanting to understand what they are going through.
Asking open-ended questions can be a great way to help them talk through what they feel and what they are going through and help you have more empathy towards them which is very healthy for the relationship.
Trauma-informed Breathwork Facilitator | Success Coach | Clinical Hypnotherapist
Give them time and space to breathe, literally
If someone you know is dealing with anxiety, one of the best things you can do is give them time and space to breathe, literally. Make sure they have physical space around them and allow them to pace or sit down, depending on what feels most calming for them at the moment.
Rather than jumping to asking what’s causing the anxiety, help them by first guiding them through a breathing exercise to regulate their nervous system.
Often when someone is feeling anxious, their breathing becomes fast and shallow. One of the most effective breathing techniques you can guide them through is the 4-7-8 method. It will bring them out of the fight or flight state and back into rest and digest.
- Ask them to breathe deeply through their nose into their belly for four seconds. Watch to make sure their stomach is expanding.
- After the 4-second inhale, have them hold their breath for 7 seconds before exhaling through their mouth for 8 seconds.
- If they say they can’t hold their breath for 7 counts, then cut each count in half.
- Have them inhale deeply through their nose, into their belly for 2 seconds, hold their breath for 3 seconds and exhale through their mouth for 4 seconds.
Here are a couple of tips for you as their guide:
Be mindful of the tone of voice you use. Be direct but not commanding. Make sure your tone is encouraging and calm. It helps to count the seconds off on your hand as they breathe, so they have something to focus on while breathing.
You can also lead them by doing the breathing technique as well. Mirroring your breathing will not only help soothe them, but it also creates a subconscious connection and trust with you.
Do as many rounds of breathing as it takes for you to see a physical shift take place. Their shoulders will soften. Their eyes will become more focused. Their face will relax. Once you see this, still allow them a minute or so to begin breathing regularly before asking them to share what caused them to feel anxious.
Pre-empting this conversation with the breathing exercise allows them to return to a state of social engagement where they can collect their thoughts.
Kira Yakubov, LMFT
Founder and Lead Therapist, Heal Your Roots Wellness
Try to empathize with what they are going through
The first step in helping someone with anxiety is to try to understand what they are going through. Anxiety is a mental health disorder that can cause various symptoms, including fear, racing thoughts, and difficulty sleeping.
If you know someone who is dealing with anxiety, it is important to be patient and understanding.
Listen and offer support
It is also important to listen to and support someone with anxiety. This can be done by simply being there for them and letting them know you are available to talk if they need to.
You can also offer practical help, such as helping them to make a doctor’s appointment or doing something that would make them feel more comfortable in triggering situations.
Encourage healthy coping mechanisms
Another way to help someone with anxiety is to encourage them to use healthy coping mechanisms. This may include things like exercise, relaxation techniques, and journaling.
It is vital to encourage them to find what works for them and not be afraid to ask for help if needed.
Be mindful of certain triggering situations
If you know someone with anxiety, it is also essential to be considerate of what certain triggering situations cause them anxiety. This may include things like loud noises, large crowds, or anything else that may cause them anxiety.
If you cannot avoid a trigger, try to provide a warning ahead of time so that they can prepare themselves mentally and emotionally.
It’s essential to be patient with someone who has anxiety. Recovery takes time, so don’t expect them to “snap out of it” overnight.
Encourage them to seek help
If someone is struggling with anxiety, it’s essential to encourage them to seek professional help. A therapist can help them understand and manage their anxiety in a healthy way.
Joshua Brancheau, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT, LPAT
Acting Clinical Director and Art Therapist, The Art Therapy Project
Use creativity to counter anxiety
How would I help someone with anxiety? As an art therapist, I would always lean into my specialty and suggest they make some type of art. This could be in a more formal setting with a licensed art therapist, or it could become a routine they practice on their own as a form of self-care.
To engage in art therapy, they would need to seek a licensed professional, but that does not mean that some of the therapeutic qualities of art-making are not already accessible to anyone wanting to use them on their own.
Studies in 2016 showed that art-making could reduce one’s level of cortisol—the primary stress hormone we produce in our bodies. When we are anxious, our sense of threat is heightened, and cortisol is released to activate our system to engage with this perceived threat.
By making art and lowering our cortisol level, we help to calm down our nervous system and shift out of a threatened or aroused state.
Art-making can also shift our focus away from overwhelming thoughts towards a pleasurable, creative endeavor. This gives our mind a distraction and some relief from our anxious thoughts.
Within a therapeutic setting, being encouraged to create art related to our anxiety rather than being asked to speak about it allows us to communicate our stressors without having to put words to them.
This process of externalizing anxious feelings can be a relief in and of itself, but it can also open the space for a safe discussion with an art therapist about the underlying stressors of those anxious feelings.
If you or your friend’s anxiety is so severe that it disrupts your everyday life, do not hesitate to seek support from a licensed professional to help you work through those overwhelming feelings.
Carrie Howard, LCSW, CCATP
Anxiety Coach, Thrive Anxiety Solutions
Reframe your desire to “fix” your loved one
It’s hard watching those around us suffer! If you have a friend or family member with anxiety, you might wonder how you can best help them.
While you can’t take their suffering away, you can be a great support in their life. It can be helpful to reframe your desire to “fix” your loved one and instead shift your energy into learning how you can best support them on their mental health journey.
Here are some ideas to get you started on being an excellent support to someone with anxiety:
Check-in on them
Send a text or call them, letting them know you’re thinking of them and asking how they’re doing. Feeling loved and thought about is so comforting!
Offer to help in a practical way
Be specific rather than open-ended or vague. “Hey, I know you’ve been stressed lately. Would it be helpful if I watched the kids for the afternoon while you rest or get out of the house?”
Be a good listener
Instead of giving advice, focus on being a good listener and showing empathy. Ask if they are looking for advice or just need a safe space to vent.
Try not to take distance personally
Anxiety can be exhausting! Sometimes people with anxiety might not text or call back right away. They might even cancel plans because they need space to recharge when feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated.
Being a safe place of support is a tremendous gift we can offer those we care about who are struggling. It might make a world of difference to them in their time of need!
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Help them engage in self-knowledge and keep a balanced lifestyle
Anxiety is not all bad when you utilize it to accomplish things and move on with your life. However, when anxiety keeps you stuck, it can jeopardize your overall vitality and health.
Anxiety may have many causes, and there are a variety of appropriate techniques and interventions that help to regulate or heal, depending on the reasons.
Everyone has already experienced some anxiety. The best way to live without anxiety is to engage in self-knowledge and keep a balanced lifestyle.
Anxiety can be regulated using simple techniques. Anxiety medication is just an aid to control anxiety; it does not heal, and it is not advised to be used for an extended period due to its side effects.
Many people can recognize when they start getting anxious. Common signs include:
- Racing thoughts
- Accelerated heartbeats
- Sweaty hands
Depending on the intensity of their anxiety, the following techniques can help:
It entails a series of ancient breathing techniques that, besides bringing anxiety to a lower level, promotes several other health benefits.
It is another ancient practice, and there are several styles. If meditation is practiced consistently, it will not only bring your anxiety down but also help you be more focused and productive.
It is another ancient practice that promotes flexibility, strength, and balance and helps regulate anxiety.
It is a great way to organize thoughts, bring clarity, and regulate anxiety.
Do self-soothing activities
It entails any activity that may calm you down. Everyday self-soothing activities include: playing with your child or pet, talking to a friend, playing an instrument, going for a pleasant walk, holding a tree, listening to music, gardening, and praying.
It is the state of raising awareness and being present. It includes observing your emotions, thoughts, and body sensations without repressing or being entangled.
Do some physical activity
Besides improving overall health, it reduces negative emotional states such as anxiety and depression. Cardio, trekking, and workout are examples of physical activity.
Therapy may help you go to the root of your anxiety
If you cannot regulate your anxiety with the previous options, therapy would be the next step. Therapy can help you to heal from your negative anxiety that may be rooted in past traumas.
Hypnotherapy is one of the most effective and short-term interventions that may help you go to the root of the problem and heal.
Dr. David Seitz
Medical Director, Ascendant Detox
Listen to them attentively
One of the best things you can do for someone with anxiety is to simply listen to them. Show that you care about what they say and want to understand their experience.
Avoid trying to offer advice or tell them what they should do; simply being there for them is often more helpful than anything else.
Express your concern
It’s difficult to see a loved one go through an anxiety attack. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to lower the intensity or duration of a panic attack while it’s happening.
The most important thing you can do is express your concern and let them know that you’re there for them.
When someone is dealing with anxiety, the last thing they need is to feel judged. Try to avoid passing judgment on their thoughts or behaviors, as this will only make them feel worse. Instead, focus on showing empathy and understanding.
Help them find professional help
If someone is struggling with anxiety, it may be helpful to encourage them to seek professional help. A therapist can work with them to develop coping mechanisms and help them understand and manage their anxiety.
Encourage them to take care of themselves
Self-care is vital for managing anxiety. Help your loved one by encouraging them to get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, and exercise regularly. Additionally, suggest relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
Julia Malone, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Balance and Bloom Therapy
The main thing is to show up and let them know you are willing to help
It can be distressing to experience someone close to you who is dealing with anxiety or panic attacks. Many people are uneducated on how anxiety can really affect someone.
Anxiety Disorder is the most common mental health condition in the United States. Here are some ways to identify anxiety in a loved one and how to help:
- Feeling shortness of breathe
- Feeling edgy or restless
- Easily fatigued
- Vomiting or Diarrhea
- Fear of the future / unknown outcomes
- Continuous or uncontrollable worry
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Avoidance of feared event, person, or thing
- Second guessing
- Seeking reassurance
- Easily frustrated/angered
Here is how to help them:
- Provide validation to their situation and feelings.
- Check in with them to find out how they’re doing and see if there is any way you can support them. Express concern if needed.
- Offer kindness and compassion, but also talk honestly about how it affects others in the family or friend system.
- Encourage them to talk to a therapist, go to a support group, or speak about their struggles with their other support systems.
- Encourage them to use coping skills.
Here are a few steps to teach them:
- Deep breathing in a 3-2-3 pattern (3 seconds to breathe in, hold for 2 seconds, and breathe out for 3 seconds) repeat 5 times.
- 5 senses exercise: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste. This brings you awareness of the present moment instead of worrying about the future.
- Hold a piece of ice in their hand.
- Go for a walk or get some sort of exercise.
But the main thing is to show up. Show them you care, are invested in their mental health, and are willing to help, encourage, support, and adapt to increase their well-being.
Parky H. Lau, MA
PhD Student of Clinical Psychology, Toronto Metropolitan University | Owner, Simply Mental Health
Understand the root cause of anxiety
When helping people with anxiety, it can often be helpful to understand the root fear of their anxiety. This can be useful to determine a potential diagnosis and begin to tackle the negative thoughts that maintain their anxiety.
For example, two people may both want to stay home because of anxiety. However, the first person says that they do not go out because they are afraid that other people will judge them (“They’ll think I look stupid or seem weird”), whereas the second person may say it’s because they worry that they will get an anxiety/panic attack.
The first person’s report is more consistent with social anxiety disorder, and the second person could be diagnosed with panic disorder/agoraphobia.
Apply the strategies for anxiety
Some evidence-based strategies for anxiety include behavioral and cognitive components (cognitive behavioral therapy).
Regular relaxation exercises
For example, regular relaxation exercises can be great ways to reduce levels of hyperarousal (fight or flight response) over time:
- Box breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Guided imagery
Additionally, mindfulness practice can be helpful because it allows us to notice our anxious thoughts without falling into them and letting them cycle out of control. Here, we simply notice our thoughts and feelings and let them go without giving them power.
Another common evidence-based strategy for anxiety is the use of exposures.
In exposures, the therapist and patient (or the patient themselves) start a list of scary activities associated with their fears and work their way up from the bottom (least scary) to the top (most scary).
For example, if they have a fear of dogs, they might start by looking at pictures of a dog, and their final north star task would be to actively play with a dog.
Cognitive behavioral strategies
Our fears often perpetuate our anxiety because:
- They make us think something very dangerous will happen.
- They make us avoid scary situations, which maintains the problem in the long term.
Thought records are a strategy where we write down our scary beliefs of what will happen. We then evaluate this thought fairly by writing down evidence for and against the thought. By doing so, we come up with a balanced thought to replace the scary thought.
Another strategy to change our beliefs is the use of behavioral experiments. Here, we take our scary belief to the test and try it out.
For example, we may believe, “If I leave my baby with my partner alone, the baby will cry and need me.” We can formally test this by trying it out and seeing if our fears come true!
Kelly Skovron, LCSW, RYT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Yoga Teacher | Founder, Feelings Forward Wellness
Anxiety can feel like a deeply lonely experience to the person struggling with it. As a person who has struggled with anxiety myself, here are the things that I would appreciate someone who helps me with my anxiety:
Calmly ask if that person is okay
The way that you ask a person about their functioning makes a difference. You don’t want to push your anxieties onto them, but you also want to ask in a genuine, empathetic manner.
Respecting the person by not asking for details and giving them control over receiving help is also key.
Validate their feelings
Even if a person’s anxiety seems ridiculous, validation goes a long way. The person usually knows if their anxiety is irrational, and pointing that out only makes it worse.
Either validating a person’s fear or the way they feel may look like listening and giving feedback that you would feel similarly if you were in the same position.
Offer to co-regulate with them
The anxious person might say no to this request, but offering to co-regulate with a person might help them the most. Co-regulation is using your relaxed state to help someone else achieve calm, too.
Doing breathing exercises, distraction techniques, grounding, or visualizations with someone will not only help them to feel less alone but can also reduce the anxiety at hand.
Dr. Kristen C. Eccleston
Education Consultant and Director, Weinfeld Education Group’s Social-Emotional Services
Nothing is worse for someone with anxiety when the people around them make statements like “I can’t believe you are letting that bother you” or “just get over it.”
Even if you disagree with the level of anxiety or stress a person is experiencing, it can be helpful to say things like:
- “It’s ok. I’m here for you.”
- “Take your time. We are in no rush.”
- “What can I do to help.”
Co-regulation can be a huge help
Co-regulation is an interaction that models support and coaching in a calm and collected manner.
Most people think of co-regulation as a way for an adult to model to a child a way to stay calm in a stressful situation or during behavioral dysregulation, but it can also be helpful for people dealing with anxiety.
Instead of getting “excited” or upset, staying calm and being relaxed and supportive of someone dealing with anxiety can be beneficial.
Be a safe space
Sometimes when someone is dealing with anxiety, it can be helpful to talk through their feelings and emotions with someone they know won’t be judgmental or critical of what they are going through.
Using simple techniques like deep breathing or grounding techniques can be helpful for someone who is coping with anxiety.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique, where you ask the person to name five things they can see, four things that can feel, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste can often reset the nervous system and help with a panic attack or overwhelming feelings of anxiety.
Movement can reset the nervous system
Exercise such as going for a walk or simple yoga techniques can also help to reset the nervous system and help reduce anxiety.
Normalizing experiences and helping to reframe anxious thoughts can also be helpful when trying to help someone with anxiety.
By learning what anxiety looks like and knowing the signs and symptoms, you can use the tips mentioned above to support and comfort someone coping with anxiety.
Somatic Healing Specialist, The Workout Witch
Take something off their plate and be there when they need you
We’ve all heard to address someone’s anxiety by reassuring them that we’re there for them.
- “I’m here if you need me.”
- “If you want to talk, I’m a great listener.”
- “Let me know what you need.”
While those responses are great things to say to someone suffering from a panic attack or long-term anxiety, they also may do the exact opposite of what you’re looking to achieve by adding a bit more anxiety to that person’s life.
The truth is, anxiety leaves someone with an overwhelming weight on their shoulders. And receiving offers from people to call them if needed or reach out when necessary — can add even more weight; the weight of feeling like you need to respond, you need to reach back out, you need to open up, you need to request help.
When it comes to anxiety, a great thing you can do is to, of course, make sure that person knows they can lean on you or talk to you or rely on you, but the best thing you can do is to simply take the slightest bit of weight off of their shoulders and be there when they need you.
- Stop by and give them a cup of coffee.
- Send them a delivery of groceries.
- Take their kids for the day.
- Mow their lawn.
Take something off their plate. Saying you’re there for someone is great, but being there for someone is even better. Remove some weight for them so that they can breathe just a little bit easier.
Christina Powell, LMHC, LPC
Owner and Psychotherapist, Mental Perk Therapy
Provide support without judgment
Anxiety is the feeling of worry or uneasiness that may be pathologized as a mental disorder when it starts to create functional deficits in different areas of life. We all experience anxiety at some point, as it is a biologically natural response that helped us over our evolution.
However, when it persists despite our best efforts to contain it, it can be alarming, frustrating, and overwhelming, to say the least.
As a supportive person to someone experiencing anxiety, one of the most critical parts of support is to be without judgment. Active listening skills can help when someone just needs to express themselves without needing a solution.
Model breathing with them
You can also help model breathing with them by facing them, holding hands, and keeping them focused on you. We naturally follow the breathing rhythm of empathic partners (breathing synchronization), which works, especially if you’re close to each other (mentally and physically).
You can also help them to immediately refocus on another task, like playing “Simon says” or counting out loud back and forth (you say 1, they say 2, etc.).
For more long-term goals, you may want to help them:
- Find a therapist
- Find a support group
- See a psychiatrist if they need medication
- Work on their diet and exercise
- Do more mindful activities like yoga, breathing, or meditation
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, PsycheMag
If you want to help someone with symptoms of anxiety, you must gain some knowledge and understand what triggers anxiety.
Express your concern
It is hard to see that your loved one has anxiety attacks, but you do not directly discuss it. You can do the only thing that shortens the period of an anxiety attack.
If your loved one stops doing some activity, do not cover up your concern, but talk to them. You ask them if you have noticed this particular thing and if they will share how they feel or what makes them withdraw from a specific activity.
Validate their experiences and emotions
You can also share your experience while having anxiety but saying you understand is quite tricky.
In an anxiety attack, a person wants someone who understands them and can relate their situation with someone’s situation.
You must show your concern and say, “It is okay not to be okay.” They do not need to worry about it. It will help them to connect with you. Do not tell them to calm down.
Know what to avoid that might cause anxiety symptoms
It is the most crucial point to help someone with anxiety. You don’t want to do anything that might cause anxiety symptoms to become more frequent or intense. So being careful is essential.
Prepare a list of “things to avoid doing”:
- Never say, “You are always thinking only about yourself.”
- Never say, “Why do not you try a therapist.”
- Never say, “Have you tried yoga or meditation?”
- Don’t constantly talk about their anxiety.
- Don’t put pressure on them.
- Don’t get frustrated.
- Don’t expect immediate change.
Ashlee Hunt, LCSW
Anxiety Therapist | Therapist, Maple Canyon Therapy
Slow down your breathing — we tend to mirror others’ way of regulating the nervous system
One of the best ways to help someone with anxiety is by regulating your nervous system.
As a therapist, one of the ways I help my clients calm down after we have addressed a complicated topic that brings up feelings of anxiousness is to slow down my breathing. As humans, we tend to mirror others’ way of regulating.
Take notice of how you’re feeling and take some slow, deep breaths. Make sure you’re giving them enough physical space.
When someone is activated with anxiety, this is likely not the time to problem-solve. They might just need you to be present and mindful.
Be an active listener and validate their emotions. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re being irrational, and pointing it out won’t be helpful.
Lastly, asking them what they need from you while they’re feeling anxious may be beneficial.
Here are six steps to help someone with anxiety:
- Check yourself and how you’re feeling.
- Start breathing slow, deep breaths.
- Give them enough physical space.
- Be present.
- Listen and validate.
- Ask them what they need.
Susan Gentile, RN
Nurse Practitioner, ChoicePoint
Make them see that they are not alone and they have people who care for them
The best to do for someone who is going through anxiety is to validate their feelings. Do not just lecture them into forgetting what just happened and moving on! Listen to them.
Yes, moving on is the best path, but let them feel and go through the feelings first. Anxiety should not be taken lightly. Much like any physical ailment, anxiety should be addressed, and closed ones should offer their full support to the person in suffering.
Make them see that they are not alone and they have people who care for them and will be there to listen to them.
Mental Health Occupational Therapist | Founder, The Thrive Group
Have the strength to hold their strong feelings without judgment
This would mean that you could be there as a support for them, have the strength to hold their strong feelings without judgment, and without getting toppled by them, but at the same time, maintaining your boundaries of privacy, time, and health so that your own self does not get compromised.
When helping someone with anxiety, it is important to focus on:
- When they’ve done well, and give them positive feedback for it.
- Being non-judgemental and not pushing them to do more or less than they are doing.
- Not making decisions for them because then you are getting into a codependent relationship with them.
So again, the main word of advice is not to lose yourself in their battle so that your health can maintain while still being a support and encouragement to them through an anxious period.
Karen Ridder Stuart
Self-Help Instructor | Jin Shin Jyutsu Practitioner, Jin Shin Jyutsu by Karen
Getting up and moving is an important first step in eliminating feelings of anxiety
As a trained Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner with a history of severe PTSD, I have a unique perspective on how to help someone who is suffering from anxiety.
Jin Shin Jyutsu greatly reduces stress which allows deep healing to take place. Think acupuncture without needles. While Jin Shin Jyutsu is not a substitute for medical treatment, it has proven to be a valuable complement to conventional care.
How Jin Shin Jyutsu can help with anxiety
Anxiety can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. The following are specific holds a person can utilize depending on the specific symptom they are experiencing.
Each position should be held for at least 3-5 minutes while taking deep, relaxing breaths:
- Worry – Hold the thumb.
- Fear – Hold the index finger/Hold the inside of your ankle with the same side little toe.
- Anxiety – Hold the little finger.
- Breathlessness – Hold the ring finger.
- Heart palpitations – Hold the left little finger.
- Dizziness – Hold the inside arches of your feet.
- Lightheadedness – Hold the outside of your wrist/Place your fingers on the space between your nose and lips.
What to do if you wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack
I chose to make a separate section specifically addressing this issue because I wanted to offer advice based on my own personal experience.
Years ago, I used to wake up in the middle of the night with heart palpitations that terrified me.
To be honest, no amount of Jin Shin Jyutsu helped me if I just lay there. However, I discovered that if I got up and went to the bathroom, I could then go back to bed and do my Jin Shin Jyutsu.
In further studying Jin Shin Jyutsu, I discovered why this was so effective. The foundation of Jin Shin Jyutsu maintains that there is life energy that circulates throughout the universe and each living organism. This universal life energy presents itself in varying density levels, which are referred to as depths.
Each depth has certain attributes associated with it, and our 4th depth is all about our physical movement. It is also the depth associated with the attitude of fear. It, therefore, makes sense that getting up and moving is an important first step in eliminating feelings of anxiety.
In terms of Jin Shin Jyutsu, when I got back to bed, I found that crossing my arms and placing my fingers in my armpits while placing my thumbs right above my breastbone was the most effective way to release all symptoms of anxiety.
The other day, while I was in the mall, I started feeling very anxious. I don’t know if I was just overwhelmed by the crowds, but I started to feel really off and lightheaded. A part of me laughed at the timing of my being asked to contribute to this article.
Here I am supposed to share my expert advice on how to combat anxiety, and I was starting to have a panic attack. However, I also realized that anxiety is like any other emotion.
Just because I know how to help myself in these situations does not mean that I am immune from feeling a bit anxious from time to time. So, I found a quiet corner and did some self-help.
I first held the inside of my right ankle with my left hand while holding my right little toe with my right hand. After about 5 minutes, I moved my left hand to the inner arch of my right foot. I just sat there and breathed for another 5 minutes before switching to my other foot.
When I was done with both feet, I felt perfectly fine. All symptoms had subsided, and I was able to go about my day.
Founder and CEO, Britannia School of Academics
The first step towards helping someone with anxiety is understanding what it is, as it’s often misunderstood and confused with other terms, such as depression.
What exactly is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease that can take the form of fear or panic. Therefore, being anxious is our brain’s natural response to actual or perceived threats in our surroundings.
From a philosophical and psychological point of view, this emotion is supposed to be a great weapon for us to appropriately detect and respond to such threats.
For example, one can get anxious at work because there is an important deadline fast approaching, missing which could have dire consequences on our career. The brain is only doing its job by generating this emotion so that the person can do the needful to meet the deadline.
The problem, however, is when someone is anxious all the time or is anxious about perceived threats that are too remote from reality. For example, if you are constantly anxious while driving, this will negatively impact your mental health and your ability to drive.
This is not to say that there is no risk of an accident, but rather that your brain is disproportionately reacting to that risk.
An uncontrollable level of anxiety can lead to panic attacks (panic disorders), phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even social anxiety (social phobia). Being anxious unnecessarily or for a prolonged period can lead to clinical depression.
Therefore, it’s vital for us to find ways of controlling our anxiety and help others achieve the same. Below, I will share two tips on taking proactive and reactive actions to help others with anxiety.
Proactive measures—focus on avoiding anxiety triggers
As a leader of an organization with over 50 employees, my first focus is avoiding situations that can trigger anxiety. In this pursuit, I find the following measures really useful:
Make sure that you or your HR personnel are formally qualified to understand various mental health issues, including anxiety, and provide care to those in need.
Various CPD courses are designed for leaders and managers to be adequately trained on this. Just search for mental health training online (or near you), and you will have various options to choose from.
These courses will help you implement proactive measures to avoid anxiety triggers. For example, you will learn essential concepts on group dynamics that you can put in place to ensure good working relationships between your employees—effectively reducing anxiety.
Make sure you have carried out a mental health risk assessment to identify risks to anxiety in your employees, and plan to have measures in place. The exact factors to consider will vary depending on the nature of your business, your organizational culture, the size of your organization, and so on.
For example, in our business, WFH employees are exposed to a greater risk of being anxious as they are not interacting with colleagues and seniors often enough, which can cause confusion, misunderstandings, and uncertainties.
We counter this risk by having fun team activities at least twice a week. Other possible measures can include such things as a friendly working environment and setting up Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for those with mental health needs.
Reactive measures—stay calm and be empathetic
Assuming that someone is already anxious, you should remember the following two things when dealing with them. Stay calm, or else you will make the situation worse for them.
Be empathetic and offer support. Let’s say you notice a colleague being short of breath, holding their head, or sweating unusually. Chances are they having a panic attack. Approach them in a friendly manner and ask them if they are alright.
If they don’t respond or look confused, politely inform them that they might be having a panic attack. Encourage them to take a seat and take a slow, deep breath.
Offer them some water. Simple, reassuring statements such as, “It’s okay. It happens sometimes.“ will help immensely. Do not ask them questions, as it will put added pressure on them to find a suitable response or clarification; simply be there for them.
Similarly, refrain from passing a judgemental comment such as “Why are you anxious about such a petty thing?“
If you have a friend or colleague with anxiety issues, avoid over-protecting them by giving false hopes or telling them to look away from the issues causing the anxiety. This is not a sustainable solution and will only prolong their suffering.
If they are comfortable enough to share the root cause of their anxiety, advise them to face the difficulty and resolve the problems, of course, help them in the process.
For example, let’s say a friend of yours is always anxious because of a new start-up that is not working out as intended. They are starting to have panic attacks. You might be tempted to suggest they should not worry about the business and take a break; you might even sponsor the break.
However, do remember that the cause is still there and will still have to be tackled sooner or later. How about you engage in positive discussions about a possible solution to the business crisis and help your friend make an informed and well-thought-of decision?
It might as well be that the business idea itself was not well-researched, and the best course of action is to call it quits. Help them make an appropriate decision, and let them take ownership of it. You are just there to provide direction and support.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Tell if Someone Has Anxiety?
• Excessive worry: If someone is constantly worrying and appears overly anxious about many different aspects of their life, they may struggle with anxiety.
• Physical symptoms: Anxiety can manifest physically in many different ways. Some common physical symptoms of anxiety include shaking, sweating, racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal distress.
• Avoidance behavior: People with anxiety may avoid situations or activities that trigger their anxiety. They may also avoid social situations or anything that requires them to be the center of attention.
• Irritability: Anxiety can make people feel on edge and irritable. If someone seems easily agitated, this could indicate that they are struggling with anxiety.
• Difficulty concentrating: Anxiety can make it challenging to focus on tasks or concentrate on work. If someone seems easily distracted or has a hard time completing tasks, this could be a sign of anxiety.
• Panic attacks: People with anxiety may experience sudden and intense panic attacks. These attacks can be terrifying and may cause physical symptoms like chest pain, sweating, and shaking.
• Changes in behavior: People with anxiety may exhibit changes in behavior, such as becoming more withdrawn or less communicative. They may also have trouble sleeping or experience changes in their appetite.
What Triggers Anxiety?
Stressful life events: Major life changes such as job loss, financial difficulties, relationship problems, and traumatic experiences can trigger anxiety.
• Genetics: Research shows that anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting a genetic component.
• Brain chemistry: Imbalances in the brain’s neurotransmitters can lead to anxiety. For instance, low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, can trigger anxiety.
• Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, thyroid disorders, and chronic pain can cause anxiety.
• Substance abuse: Alcohol, drugs, and caffeine can trigger anxiety, particularly if used in large amounts or over an extended period.
• Personality traits: People who are perfectionists, have low self-esteem, or are excessively worrying may be more prone to anxiety.
• Environmental factors: Environmental factors such as pollution, noise, and a lack of natural light can also contribute to anxiety.
What Should I Say to Someone With Anxiety?
If someone you know is struggling with anxiety, it’s important to offer support and be a good listener. Here are some tips on what you can say to someone with anxiety:
“I’m here for you.” Let them know you’re available to listen and support them whenever needed.
“It’s okay to feel anxious.” Remind them that anxiety is a normal emotion and that they’re not alone in feeling this way.
“What can I do to help?” Ask them what they need from you, whether it’s a listening ear, a distraction, or practical support with daily tasks.
“Let’s take some deep breaths together.” Suggest a breathing exercise or relaxation technique that you can do together to help them calm down.
“I believe in you.” Offer words of encouragement and remind them that you have faith in their ability to overcome their anxiety.
“Have you considered seeking professional help?” If their anxiety is severe or interfering with their daily life, encourage them to seek the help of a mental health professional.
“I don’t always understand, but I’m here to support you.” Acknowledge that you may not fully understand what they’re going through, but let them know that you’re there to support them regardless.
“It’s okay to take time for yourself.” Encourage them to prioritize their self-care and take breaks when needed.
“What do you find helpful when you’re feeling anxious?” Ask them what coping mechanisms they find helpful and encourage them to continue using them.
“I care about you.” Most importantly, remind them that you care about them and that they’re not alone in their struggles.
What Shouldn’t I Say to Someone With Anxiety?
“Just calm down.” Telling them to “just calm down” implies that their anxiety is something they can control and that they’re choosing not to. In reality, anxiety is often out of the person’s control, and telling them to calm down can make them feel even more powerless.
“It’s all in your head.” This phrase can be incredibly dismissive and invalidating. While anxiety may be a mental health condition, that doesn’t mean it’s not real or that it’s not affecting the person’s life in significant ways.
“You’re overreacting.” Someone with anxiety may be more prone to worry or panic than others, but that doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t valid. Telling them they’re overreacting can make them feel ashamed of their emotions and increase anxiety.
“Just breathe.” Deep breathing exercises can help manage anxiety, but telling someone to “just breathe” can be condescending or dismissive.
“Why are you anxious?” It’s natural to want to understand why someone is feeling anxious, but this question can be difficult to answer. A wide range of factors can trigger anxiety, and sometimes there’s no apparent reason at all. Asking why someone is anxious can make them feel like they need to justify their emotions.
“Don’t worry about it.” While it may be well-intentioned, telling someone not to worry about something can be unhelpful. It’s unlikely to stop the person from feeling anxious and may make them feel like their worries are being ignored.
“You should try _______.” While it’s important to encourage someone with anxiety to seek professional help, suggesting they try a specific treatment or coping mechanism can be unhelpful. It’s better to let them decide what works best for them and support them in their decisions.
What Is the Best Way to Deal With Anxiety?
• Practice relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety.
• Exercise regularly: This releases endorphins that can help improve your mood and reduce anxiety.
• Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety, so getting enough rest is beneficial.
• Eat a healthy diet: A balanced diet can help reduce anxiety symptoms by providing essential nutrients and stabilizing blood sugar levels.
• Avoid alcohol and drugs: These substances can worsen anxiety symptoms and lead to addiction.
• Challenge negative thoughts: Identify and challenge negative thoughts that contribute to anxiety. Replace them with positive affirmations.
• Seek support: Talk to friends, family, or a mental health professional for support and guidance.
• Practice self-care: Take time to do things that make you happy and reduce stress, such as reading, taking a bath, or listening to music.
• Consider therapy: Therapy can help you learn coping mechanisms and address underlying issues that contribute to anxiety.
• Use medication: In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage anxiety. Consult with a healthcare professional to discuss treatment options.
What Foods Help Anxiety?
While there is no single “magic” food that can cure anxiety, there are some foods that can help manage symptoms and promote a healthy, balanced diet.
Here are some foods that may help alleviate anxiety:
• Fatty fish: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and promote brain health. Examples include salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
• Dark chocolate: Contains flavonoids that can help improve mood and reduce stress levels. Look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content.
• Leafy greens: Rich in magnesium, which can help regulate cortisol levels and reduce anxiety. Examples include spinach, kale, and collard greens.
• Whole grains: Provide complex carbohydrates that can help stabilize blood sugar levels and promote feelings of calmness. Examples include brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread.
• Fermented foods: They contain probiotics that can help improve gut health and reduce anxiety symptoms. Examples include yogurt, kefir, and kimchi.
• Herbal teas: Certain teas, such as chamomile and lavender, have been shown to have calming effects and promote relaxation.
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