Helping someone with anxiety when you don’t have it can be a hard task. You can’t provide empathy because you can’t feel how they feel, so all you can do is try your best as you hope that what you say and do lets them know you love them, you’re here for them, and will do everything in your power to help them feel safe. In this article, we’ll look at what is anxiety, signs of anxiety, comforting words for someone with anxiety, and how to help someone with anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to a stressful event or situation. It can come about when something triggers fear within ourselves. For example, anxiety is a common response to experiencing a trauma, such as a sexual assault.
Anxiety can also come about when our fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered. Unfortunately, daily stresses can trigger this anxiety response, such as an increased workload, an argument with a coworker, spouse, or friend, or even a string of words that replay in our minds.
Signs of anxiety
- Excessive worry
- Difficulty sleeping
- Rapid heart rate
- Panic attacks
- Sweating or chills
- Feeling of impending doom
- Shortness of breath
- And many more
Comforting words for someone with anxiety
- “I’ll be here to keep you safe and out of harm’s way.”
- “How’s your day today?”
- “I’m sorry that you’re going through this. Let me know how I can help?”
- “I just downloaded a meditation app that I found really helpful. Here’s the one that helped me when I was feeling anxious about work today.”
- “Can I just say what you’re going through sucks. You don’t deserve this. I’m standing with you until the end.”
- “Did you want me to come over to help keep you company?”
- “Do you need me to contact the police to help you through this if you’re afraid of being tracked?”
- “Let’s jump on a call to chat through this.”
- “What do you need right now to feel safer?”
- “I know it doesn’t seem like it to you right now, but you’ve been handling this situation really well. I know it’s super tough to deal with; you’re doing the right things.”
How to help someone with anxiety
1. Listen to them
When someone is experiencing anxiety, we often try to say the opposite of what they say, hoping that’ll help them “snap out of it.” However, it isn’t helpful. Instead, mirror the words they say and listen to them. Sometimes, the fears people are experiencing seem irrational to someone else. However, the fears are very real to the person experiencing anxiety.
For example, if a person says, “I’m afraid because I’m in danger.” You might say, “Feeling like you’re in danger does make people feel afraid. What danger are you in?” The focus shouldn’t be on providing solutions unless they ask for solutions. Instead, focus on listening to their pain and creating an environment that doesn’t add to their anxiety. Being misunderstood could be incredibly frustrating when having a panic attack or feeling anxious.
2. Help them work out their fears
First, start with A, which is activating event. The activating event is the event that triggers anxiety. For example, “I’m walking down the street and notice someone is following me.”
Next up is B, which is the belief or stuck point. The belief that comes into your head is the thought that leads to anxiety or gets you stuck in an anxious cycle. For example, “I tell myself that I’m in danger again because the last time someone followed me, I was raped.”
Finally is C, which is the consequence of the thought or what you’re feeling. For example, “I am anxious.” Use phrasing such as “I am sad” or “I am angry at [person’s name or myself]” instead of saying “I feel sad” or “I feel angry.”
Then, examine if the beliefs or stuck points are helpful or realistic. And work with them to find ways to reframe their anxiety for future occasions.
3. Avoid asking them to face their fears
While it’s easy to be courageous when you’re not scared, full-blown panic can arise from facing your fears before you’re ready. If you want to help someone with anxiety, don’t suggest facing their fears. If they’re prepared to face their fears, they might ask you to help them themselves. However, it needs to be done on their terms rather than yours.
You might be wondering, “how do I help someone with anxiety who’s afraid to leave their house?” You can’t force them out the door – especially if there’s trauma involved. In their mind, danger awaits them outside that door, so the thought of stepping outside can terrify them. What you can do is offer to join them when they are ready to face their fears. That way, they have a shield protecting them when it’s time to meet their anxiety.
4. Breathe with them
Using a guided meditation app like Declutter The Mind, you can play a guided meditation and practice breathing exercises with an anxious person. Many workplaces offer group meditations during the workday to help calm anxiety. While it’s not always easy to find a workplace that offers it, you can play a guided meditation for breathing or a guided meditation for anxiety audio. Sitting together to practice meditation will allow you both to relax during this stressful time.
The key to breathing your anxiety away is not getting lost in your thoughts or being moved by them. Instead, focus on noticing the thoughts that come in and out of your mind outside of your control. You are not your thoughts. Anxiety comes from believing the thoughts that enter our minds are real, and as a result, we fear the future. However, the more you detach yourself from your thoughts, the easier it will be to overcome anxiety and help someone with anxiety.
5. Create a safe environment
To help someone with anxiety, you need to create an environment they feel safe in. If you’re not taking their stress seriously, they won’t feel safe near you. If an anxious person has experienced a trauma, you’ll want to be delicate around making them feel safe. You might add extra security protections in your home, such as home security, additional locks on doors, wooden bars on windows so they can’t be tampered with, and more. It’s all about making them feel like they’re in control. A loss of control is a common fear in the aftermath of a trauma, particularly when they lose control during a car accident, sexual assault, or military experience.
Sharing your own anxieties isn’t about minimizing or overshadowing the other person’s anxieties. When sharing your own anxieties, make them relevant to their situation. For example, you might say, “After I got into a car accident, I was terrified to get back into a car again. Here are a few things that worked for me that you can try when you’re ready.”
Having an honest conversation about your biggest fears can help anxious people realize that it’s normal to experience fear, anxiety, and panic. Most of the time, when we experience severe anxiety, we feel like we’re the only ones who could ever feel this way. However, the more you speak with others, the more common ground you find, which can help others feel like they’re not alone in their suffering.
7. Meet their needs
One of the first questions to ask when you want to help someone with anxiety is, “how can I help?” Determine what their needs are. You might ask specific questions, such as “What is your need for safety?” or “What do you need to calm your mind?” Don’t allow someone to shrug off solutions. Create a safe environment where you can learn what would help patch their anxiety.
You might frame it from your perspective. “When you feel anxious, I feel helpless because I want you to feel safe here. What can I do to help you meet your need for safety?” If you don’t get a direct answer, you can start suggesting ideas that make sense for their situation. A simple yes or no may suffice so you can better understand the direction to take things.
8. Help them find support
Unless you’re trained to deal with anxiety, you might have to bring a psychotherapist to help someone with anxiety if you don’t have it. You need to remind the anxious person that you’re here for them through every step of the way. Ask them about their insurance policy and help them find a therapist in their area.
One thing to let them know that many anxious people might not be aware of is that you can stop and change therapists at any time if they’re not happy with the direction or tone of their therapy sessions. If you don’t think therapy isn’t helping, it could just be a therapist who isn’t the right fit for that person. Every therapist has a specialty. Finding therapists who are accepting new patients is a good way to avoid long waiting lists.
9. Assess their threats
To help someone with anxiety, you’ll need to assess their threats. If they’ve been sexually assaulted by someone they know or have just come out of a dangerous relationship, the danger in the immediate term could be high risk. Don’t minimize their threat of the situation, even if you think it’s exaggerated.
Is the individual showing signs of suicide? Are they threatening to harm anyone? On a scale of one to ten, how much danger are they in? If the threats seem entirely legitimate, it’s time to call the police, 9-1-1, a trained mental health expert, or someone trained at handling sensitive situations. Don’t aim to be a hero but don’t overlook danger either.
10. Do a fun or relaxing activity together
When spending time with someone who has anxiety, consider doing a relaxing or fun activity with them. Recently, my cousin came over feeling anxious about a breakup and the instability it caused. We spent the afternoon with Halloween candy across the table while filling loot bags while talking about her concerns, frustrations, and fears. After a couple of hours of packing bags, she felt relaxed and said she ended up having a lot of fun.
The lesson in this story is that doing an act of kindness for someone else can help someone with anxiety. The impact of helping others is positive, so it allows them to put out good into the world. However, it’s also a way to break the ice and give them permission to be more honest. Without the honesty that comes from a place of calm, you can never inch closer to helping them solve their problems.
11. Validate their feelings
When someone we love suffers from anxiety, we typically aren’t supportive. This may be due because we end up hearing the same fears for years on end that we become detached emotionally from their concerns. However, if the same anxious fears keep creeping up, there’s an unresolved problem or trauma there.
It’s key to validate a person’s feelings when they’re dealing with anxiety. No matter how long you’ve known them or how many times you’ve heard their story. Their biggest fears come from a source of pain. Relate to their pain and suffering on a human level. Make sure they know you hear them loud and clear.
12. Recharge your batteries
Helping someone with anxiety when you don’t have it can drain you. You may end up developing some form of caregiver burnout. Compassion fatigue is real. You’d think that being kind to someone would uplift us, but for many, it can be a draining experience to pull someone out when they’ve hit rock bottom.
Find someone you can express your stress to, such as a therapist. Take time out away from the anxious person now and then to recharge your batteries. Be sure to continue good habits, such as exercise, mindful eating, and practicing mindfulness.
You can help someone with anxiety even if you don’t know how severe their fears are at the moment. When with someone with anxiety, listen intently, meditate with them, create a safe environment for them, and pay close attention to the comforting words you share with them. It’s not an easy task, but you’re strong enough to help someone with anxiety out of the rock bottom state they’re in. Show your love, keep them safe, and take care of yourself so you can be the strong support system an anxious person needs.