5 Ways to Help When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

woman comforting man

Worries about money, a big day at work, a fight with your husband -- all can make it seem like the world is crashing down on your shoulders. And then boom -- the anxiety hits and doesn't go away just because you want it to. But, when you watch someone else in your life suffer from debilitating anxiety, it's not always so easy to understand what's afflicting them or to find the right words and actions to get them through it.


"Snap out of it!"

"You have nothing to worry about!"

"Just take a deep breath and you'll feel better!"

Saying those things won't make things better -- it might even make things worse. So how do you help a family member deep in the throes of anxiety? Start by being sympathetic and understand that they're not doing it to annoy or manipulate you. "Telling someone to not be anxious or worried without the right tools and support is like telling someone with a broken leg to run without a cast or crutch," explains Brooke Weindarden, DO/MPH.

Letting your friend or family member feel your calm energy is a great place to start. Listen and let them get some of their worries off their chest -- and from there, try your best to follow these five tips:

1. Validate the feelings. Diminishing your loved one's concerns is not going to help. You have to acknowledge -- even though the feelings seem like no big to deal to you -- that your loved one is experiencing something quite powerful. 

2. Be supportive. "Instead of trying to 'fix' it and tell them that their fears are not valid, you want to ask them what has helped them in the past and encourage those things," suggests Maximize Wellness' Cara Maksimow, LCSW, CPC. "Do it together so that you can help them when you need to."

3. Stay calm. Don't let your partner or friend's anxiety make you anxious. Stay calm because the anxiety did not come about by anything you did. 

4. Don't argue. It's easy to get frustrated and take their reactions to their anxiety personally. "Don't let the worry draw you into an argument, about money, for example," says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction. "Your partner is probably not intending to criticize you, she or he's probably just worried and wanting to share the only way she or he knows how. Just move the conversation to a more positive focus, like what the two of you can do about it."

5. Encourage talking. When you notice that your friend/partner is getting uptight, carefully try and get them to talk about it. Many times an anxious person doesn't know they are in the midst of an attack. You don't need to point it out to them but just very gently talk them through it. "It's also not helpful to allow them to isolate or avoid all things," says Weindarden. "Avoiding activities -- people, social events, school -- is not a good solution."


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