When someone close to you has anxiety, it can be difficult to know what to say. If you want to let your loved one know that you support them, here are some things that you can say, along with things that you should avoid saying.

Recognizing Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. However, some people experience anxiety to the point where it interferes with their daily lives. It’s estimated that about 19% of adults in the U.S. have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are among the most common types of mental illness.

There are several different kinds of anxiety disorders, and the symptoms may not be obvious. Also, not everyone reacts the same way in stressful situations. It may be hard to tell if a friend or family member is struggling with anxiety. One thing that’s similar about all kinds of anxiety disorders is that they cause people to feel overwhelmed more easily than others. This can also cause them to react in a negative way toward these feelings.

It may be hard for you to see a friend or family member struggle with anxiety. If you notice that someone is having trouble, there are things that you can say and do to help.

What to Say

If a family member or friend with anxiety decides to open up to you, listen patiently and don’t push them or pressure them to talk about more than they’re ready to share. It’s important that as you listen, you don’t judge what they have to say. What they’re going through is their experience, not yours.

“What can I do to help you?” Instead of offering advice straight away, ask your loved one what they need. Don’t guess what kind of support they need or make suggestions for things that might work for you and not them. Ask them what you can do to help. Your friend might want advice, or simply just an ear to listen.

If they do need help dealing with their anxiety, there are several ways that you can offer to help. Talk about the specific issues that are most worrisome to them. Try to help them break down these issues into smaller tasks so that they don’t seem so daunting. You can also offer emotional support. Assure them that they can get through whatever situation they’re facing.

“I’m here for you. You’re not alone.” Like offering to help, letting someone with anxiety know that they’re not alone can be meaningful. Even if you don’t understand everything that your friend or family member is going through, you can validate their feelings. Tell them that you will support them through their tough time.

Let your friend know that you’ll be there to talk when they need it. If you aren’t available when a friend calls, follow up and check on them later. You can also call them regularly to see how they are doing.

“Do you want to do something to take your mind off of things?” It’s hard to know what to say to someone with anxiety, and chances are they probably don’t want to talk all the time. Instead, ask them if they would like to do a fun, healthy activity that you both enjoy to help them relax. This can be as simple as going for a walk or going out for coffee together.

What Not to Say

It’s also important to know what not to say to someone who’s anxious.

“You’ll get over it./Snap out of it.” Anxiety disorders don’t work like this. Often, it requires help from a mental health professional in the form of talk therapy, medication, or a combination of therapies. Remember that your friend or family member doesn’t choose to feel this way, so it’s not something that they can turn off to feel normal again.

“I know, ___ makes me feel really anxious, too.” Comparing your own anxieties to theirs isn’t going to help them. You probably feel rational anxiety about things that happen in your life, but you can’t equate those feelings to the irrational feelings people with anxiety disorders may have. It’s not the same, and this diminishes your loved one’s experience.

“Have you tried ___?” Don’t ask someone with anxiety if they’ve tried certain health or wellness techniques to overcome their feelings. While this may work for people with temporary anxiety about certain situations, it may not work for someone with an anxiety disorder.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “Beyond worry: How psychologists help with anxiety disorders.”

Beyond Blue: “What to say and why.”

Depression.org: “Want to help, but not sure what to do?”

Greater Good Magazine: “Seven Ways to Help Someone with Anxiety.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “How to Help Someone with Anxiety.”

Northwestern Medicine: “13 Ways to Help a Friend with Anxiety During Coronavirus.”

Right as Rain: “What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone with Anxiety.”

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