Living with anxiety can be tough. And trying to support someone with anxiety can be just as tough.

I'm often asked by partners, parents and friends how they can help someone they care about who seems to be anxious. After all, no-one wants to put their foot in it or make it worse and sometimes it may feel like anything you do seems to fan the flames of anxiety (or make them angry that you 'don't understand' or 'don't get it').

So you may be desperate to help in some way yet feeling helpless to help.

I'm going to give you some ways to help a person with anxiety, but before I do, what should you avoid saying to an anxious person?

What NOT to say to an anxious person

If you've ever felt anxious you can remember how uncomfortable it feels - maybe you felt hot, sweaty, restless, irritable and full of worry and dread. And if you could have switched it off there and then I'm sure you wouldn't have hestitated.

So whenever you are with someone with anxiety, remember that they are not choosing to feel that way and they would probably give anything to feel 'normal' again. Their mind is running in overdrive with all those worst case scenarios and what-if thoughts and their body may be be urging them to move or get away or at least do something right now.

Keeping that in mind is the best advice anyone could ever give you - they aren't doing it on purpose, they are doing what we are all designed to do but in an overwhelming way that right now they can't control.

Here are the things you could be saying which are unlikely to help:

1) Calm Down / Chill Out / Relax

Telling an anxious person to calm down is likely to do nothing to ease their anxiety and, if anything, is likely to increase it or make them feel worse.

The fact is they would probably love to feel calm. But their anxiety is stopping them right now.

Every part of their body and mind is screaming 'danger, take action' yet rationally they probably know that  they are in no physical danger. 

They simply can't calm down right now so there is no point directing them to.

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2) 'What's The Worst That Could Happen?'

Now straight off let me say that helping someone with anxiety get perspective can sometimes be helpful and I've worked with anxious people who started asking themselves what's the worst that could happen and then felt better when they realised it wouldn't be that bad after all.

Yet I've included it here because for many others, asking this can fuel their worrying thoughts, and especially if it comes from someone else where it could sound like they are choosing to feel anxious about something when it's just 'small stuff'.

Anxiety is like a river and, as soon as one thought is closed off, can easily flow into something else and so it can feel like a ceaseless flow. 

They may already be catastrophising (e.g. if I am panicky at work I may not be able to work and my boss will fire me so I will lose my job and then I won't be able to pay my bills so I will lose my house and be homeless...) so why point them to continue down that road. With anxious thoughts, the worst can feel very bad indeed.

3) Don't worry about it

As already mentioned, a person with anxiety isn't choosing to worry and feel rubbish. Right now they can't help it even though they certainly don't want to. 

And remember that emotions make us stupid - when we feel emotional we lose the ability to think clearly and logically. There are no shades of grey - there is only black and white. Something is either ok or a complete disaster and there is nothing inbetween.

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4) Others have it much worse than you

I'm not going to say too much about this one because when has guilting someone (who already feels bad) EVER helped them start feeling better?  And trivilising their worry isn't going to help either.

Helping Someone With Anxiety

There is no doubt that trying to help someone with anxiety can be tiring, frustrating and draining. You may even start feeling anxious and stressed yourself because you want to help, you are trying to help but it seems to lead nowhere (so as well as offering help and support you need to make sure you are getting it for yourself too).

Avoiding saying the things above will help you to avoid increasing the anxiety yet I know you also want to know what you CAN do to help. I'll be covering that in my next blog.

In the meantime, if someone is struggling with anxiety then you may like to suggest they get in touch with me for an informal and confidential free initial consulatation.

Dan Regan

Anxiety Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket