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How to Responsibly Help Someone With Anxiety

Author: Devon Smolca

Sweaty palms, shortness of breath, a quick heart beat, racing thoughts… We’ve all experienced anxiety to some degree whether it’s running late to work, getting close to deadline or losing a job. Noom offers support to manage stress through a healthy lifestyle because right now stress is so prevalent in our lives. Anxiety can be much more pervasive than stress that is confined to a particular moment. In some individuals, anxiety is a frequent, patterned response that doesn’t just dissolve and may get worse overtime. It can be helpful to know what to say to someone with anxiety in order to responsibly help a friend or family member. For those with anxiety disorders, anxiety can be so consuming that it can interfere with work, relationships and overall quality of life. Anxiety challenges affect nearly one third of the population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.” Given the high incidence of anxiety, it is likely that we or someone we know experiences or has experienced anxiety disorder. Below are some strategies on what to say and how to support someone with anxiety:

Ask before offering

We may feel like we know just what to say to a friend with anxiety. When our friends are suffering, we want to give them solutions right away so they feel better. In acute moments, while mindfulness or breathing exercises might be helpful for some, staying more active or distracted might be more helpful for others, so it can be challenging to know what advice is best or whether giving advice is even beneficial for that individual. Sometimes, just feeling heard might be more constructive than unsolicited advice. If we have advice we feel could be useful it can be thoughtful to ask first, “Are you looking for advice or would you rather I listen?” Just being there to offer a stable, calm presence without offering solutions can be just as powerful. We can even check in and ask, “Is it helpful for me to be here with you right now?”

Actively listen

Being totally present with a loved one who is feeling overwhelmed with anxiety can be invaluable. Even if we don’t have or can’t give active solutions, simply being present with the person and hearing their thoughts or worries can be liberating. Active listening involves making eye contact, refraining from interrupting, restating and clarifying what’s being said, adding some encouragement, minimizing opinions and validating the person. All of these active listening skills build trust and demonstrate understanding and sympathy. The main goal is to lend a sympathetic ear so the person feels heard and loved. Everyone’s experience is different so instead of offering solutions that may or may not be helpful, elicit what the person feels they need. Some things to ask someone with anxiety could include, “what can I do to help you?” or “what do you feel you need right now?” which both support and empower.

Check in

For those with anxiety disorders, the worry or fear is a very challenging thing to release. It often doesn’t go away and can resurface or get worse over time. It’s important to check-in in a non-invasive way in order to be a supportive and caring presence. Repeatedly checking their status by asking, “are you okay?” may cause the person pressure to feel better in the present or that they need to rush their process. Instead, we can more passively engage our loved ones in order to take their mind off the feelings and thoughts that lead to overwhelm. One thing we can say to someone with anxiety is, “How would you feel about taking a walk together (breathing together, listening to music, watching a comforting show, etc.)?”

Be supportive

We all need connection and compassion. Even though we can’t always understand another person’s experience fully, we can still offer our sympathy and support. Some individuals may not feel comfortable with sharing their experience and sometimes we may not know what to say to someone with anxiety in the moment and that’s okay. We can simply let them know, “I’m here for you anytime” or “I love you and I support you no matter what.” These are powerful ways to offer help without overwhelming or overstepping boundaries.

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