How can I help others who have anxiety?

How can I help others with anxiety?

What you will get from this article:

  • Learn how to help someone with anxiety through communication and relationship techniques
  • Understand what someone suffering from anxiety is likely experiencing
  • Develop an action plan of practical steps and strategies to support your loved one struggling with anxiety

If you have someone struggling with anxiety in your life, it can be difficult to know what to do. Your loved one – partner, spouse, child, friend, trusted colleague – is anxious and afraid but saying something like “It’ll be fine” only seems to make things worse. Ignoring the issue will likely only cause more stress or anxiety, not make it go away.

Here we’ll talk about how to help someone with anxiety. No matter what causes anxiety, stress or worry, understanding what’s happening and being compassionate can turn a relationship-breaker into a situation that ultimately deepens your connection.

how to deal with anxiety woman biting nails

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Understand how to help someone with anxiety

When someone says they’re anxious or stressed, it may mean something different than you first assume. We all feel and express emotions in different ways and not everyone thinks and behaves like you do. When helping someone with anxiety, ask the person how they feel instead of telling or assuming. Questions like “Can you tell me more about what’s happening?” or “What are the thoughts going through your head right now?” leave space for better understanding of the complete situation.

When learning how to help someone with anxiety, it’s also crucial not to take on their emotions and become upset. This will only make the situation worse for both of you.

Here are some other ways to help a person with anxiety without becoming anxious yourself:

Open up communication

how to help people with anxiety woman facing man

Effective communication involves a give-and-take from both parties. Unfortunately, those who are experiencing anxiety may not be able to hold up their side of the communication bargain. When helping someone with anxiety, you may need to alter your expectations of how a balanced conversation should look.

 When they are anxious or upset, many people tend to draw inwards. This retreat can come across as agitation, aloofness or other dramatic changes in how they interact with you. This is where asking without judgment comes in. Saying something as simple as, “You seem to be having a hard time. How can I help you right now?” lets the person know you’re there, you care and they can depend on you.

Avoid attempting an instant fix

When learning how to help someone with anxiety, don’t strive for a quick fix. While it is tempting to try and change their perspective or lighten their mood, phrases like “calm down” or “just relax” give the impression you don’t actually care about the person. Try practicing your deep listening skills to find out what they really need from you. They may not want you to fix their problem at all. Helping someone with anxiety can often mean just being there for them as they download and process their feelings. Anxiety can feel overwhelming and destabilizing, so focus on what you can do to bring stability and perspective at this moment instead of rushing into problem-solving mode. Again, listen – don’t tell.

Don’t be an accomplice to fear

Though you want to be supportive to those close to you who have anxiety, it’s also important to not encourage the continuation of the anxiety cycle. When you’re learning how to help someone with anxiety, understanding and compassion doesn’t mean you must accommodate their fears. Talking with them about their anxiety too much can actually make the problem worse. Helping them calm themselves – especially during a full-blown anxiety attack – is different than offering a quick fix.

 Take a moment to remind them to breathe deeply and get their body into a calmer state. When our physiology changes, so do our emotions. Heart-breathing can be another useful state-changer to help people get over their panic or stressed moment. Helping someone with anxiety by guiding them through a short meditation or doing some quick breathing exercises alongside them can give them the support they need to pull themselves out of a heightened state and find relaxation.

how to help others with anxiety two people holding hands

Understanding the physiology of anxiety

The concept of state is so pivotal to how anxiety works that it is worth an additional mention. Research consistently shows that emotions are not just mental states; they are also accompanied by a host of physiological and behavioral changes. Anxiety and fear occur and are felt at all levels, creating a cycle that feeds itself. If you are learning how to help someone with anxiety who is very close to you, learning more about this cycle can be very useful. Not only will you be able to help educate them about this process, but you can better understand what helps – and what doesn’t – when offering assistance.

When helping someone with anxiety, remind them that learning techniques to change their physical state also changes their emotional and mental state. Emotions are linked to movement in our body, and body language sends signals to the brain. For example, slouching and shallow breathing may produce lethargic or depressed feelings, while maintaining good posture and breathing deeply help produce feelings of clarity and well-being. As a result, you can actually change your state through physical movement. Understanding this link is central to understanding how to help a person with anxiety. As Tony says, take control of your consistent emotions and begin to consciously and deliberately reshape your daily experience of life.

Practice compassion

When helping someone with anxiety, you need to avoid taking any of their feelings personally so you can offer compassion. Remember, this person’s anxiety is about them, not you. It can be particularly difficult when your partner struggles with anxiety and withdraws physically or emotionally. If this occurs, it’s time to treat them gently and encourage them to express their feelings. Show them you are there for them, but remember they may need to work out some of their emotions on their own.

If they express the need to be by themselves, don’t feel upset or frustrated. Take a step back and let them know you are available if and when they need to talk. 

Sometimes when we want to help others, we forget to take care of ourselves. Take the time apart to  tend to your own needs so that you can be the best support for them and for you; it’ll be better for your relationship and your own well-being.

How to help someone with anxiety: The importance of support systems

what causes anxiety two girls collaborating on project

Offering support is one of the best things you can do when learning how to help someone with anxiety. However, you can’t be there for them all the time. If you believe the person you are helping is really struggling and may be a danger to themselves, you should suggest they see a therapist. In less dire situations, suggesting they work with a health coach is the perfect way to increase their support network.

 Coaching is one of the most powerful tools we have to make permanent, lasting change. This is because coaching entails professional techniques to empower a person while enhancing their support system. Coaches know how to help people with anxiety and have experience with different types of emotional roadblocks. Coaching can help uncover the reasons underlying someone’s anxiety ­– a crucial first step for mastering their fear. It can also help them develop tools to use to diffuse their anxiety, cope with stressful situations and find new and better ways to unlock an extraordinary life.

Important Note

The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.

Conquer the limiting beliefs holding you back

Helping someone with anxiety comes with no easy solution, but the first step involves helping them conquer the beliefs that are holding them back. Help them learn how to adopt empowering beliefs with Tony Robbins’ Limiting Beliefs guide.