Practical Ways to Support Someone with Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common problems facing people in the world today—and supporting someone who struggles with anxiety can be frustrating and demoralizing if approached without sensitivity. Although it may feel like a lost cause, people struggling with anxiety benefit enormously from the support of friends and family.  Let’s explore practical ways you can support someone with anxiety.

Understanding Anxiety

Supporting someone with anxiety requires taking some time to understand what they’re experiencing. It may be tempting to see their fears as irrational, but to them, they are visceral. Many people experience anxiety physically; their heart rate increases, they feel itchy and restless, and can get trapped in a doom spiral of worry.

Think of anxiety as an overactive fight or flight response, where your brain is perpetually looking for signs of danger. In that mode, it’s difficult to listen to reason. Anxiety is a physiological response to our environment—something that lives in the body as well as the mind.

With that in mind, there are steps you can take to help:

Active Listening

Often, when we talk to someone, our first instinct is to try to fix a situation by offering someone solutions or minimizing their concerns. While this is a rational response, it isn’t necessarily productive or helpful for someone who suffers from anxiety. Instead, focus on listening. More often than not, what people need most is to voice their worries aloud, and have them acknowledged.

Ask questions about their worries. Use your questions to gently lead them to process and explore their fears. When talking with someone who struggles with their anxiety, remember to validate their feelings and express sympathy for what they’re feeling.

Shift Focus

After you’ve listened to their worries and let them vent their anxiety, you may be able to help them by shifting the focus of conversation toward something else. For example, you might plan a future outing, or talk to them about a movie or tv show you both enjoy. Asking questions about other interests or hobbies might help them remember that there is more to life than the worries that have captured their attention.

photo of two woman sitting at a white table talkingThis can be especially useful in helping people who suffer from anxiety in public or social situations. You can be a force that helps ground them by shifting their attention to other matters—picking up a quick bite to eat, pausing to grab a drink of water, or pointing out an interesting pattern or piece of artwork in the area to talk about.

Offer Stability and Routine

Anxiety is often tightly correlated with uncertainty. By helping your anxious loved one establish regular routines, you can help eliminate some of that uncertainty. People with anxiety benefit tremendously from wellness check-ins, offers of help to accompany them on errands, and other such actions.

Positive Reinforcement 

It’s critically important to avoid minimizing or dismissing the fears of someone with anxiety; it’s equally important to gently remind them of positive things in their life. You can do this by celebrating small victories and accomplishments, encouraging their creativity, and helping them practice being kind to yourself. Provide regular reminders of positive traits and past victories.

Vulnerability and Sharing

People who suffer from anxiety often feel ashamed of their worries. Accordingly, it can be helpful for them to hear others share their own concerns. Instead of hiding your worries and fears, talking them through with someone who suffers from anxiety allows them to see how you process your own concerns in life. Show them what it looks like to voice your concerns, acknowledge them, and let them go.

Schedule a Consultation

Supporting someone with anxiety can feel like a full-time job—and it can take a toll on your own mental health. With the right tools and techniques, anxiety can be effectively managed. If you’re interested in learning more about how to support someone struggling with anxiety, consider reaching out for anxiety therapy.