What do you say to someone struggling with anxiety? If someone you love has an anxiety disorder it can be difficult to know how to help.
The last time I had a panic attack somebody who saw it happen told me to “cheer up” right after. Needless to say it was very unhelpful. With so many people struggling with anxiety it’s surprising that people still don’t know how to react. I recently wrote a post about what not to say to someone with anxiety inspired by this experience, but I felt it’s important to discuss what does help too.
This is my advice on what are helpful things to say to someone with an anxiety order – but remember everyone is different so what works for one person won’t work for another. Just being open and talking to your loved one is the best first step you can take – and if you don’t know what they need or how to help…ask them!
Which brings me on to my first helpful thing to say to someone with an anxiety disorder:
“What can I do to help you feel calmer?”
When I’m having an anxious day I don’t usually know what will make me feel better, and I find it hard to work it out. This question shows the person struggling that they’re not alone – you’re on their side and here to help. It also focuses their mind onto things that might help. Just be warned that they might not have an answer for you.
“What helped last time you felt like this?”
This is a good follow up question, especially if they didn’t have an answer to the last one.
It’s easier to work out what made you anxious or helped you through it on reflection, but it’s not something we always do. Personally I’m usually just so relieved I’m not anxious anymore that I don’t really think about it again. But remembering what breathing techniques, meditation or creative distraction helped me through can be helpful when it happens again.
“I’m sorry to see you’re feeling like this”
Sometimes approaching your loved one with concern or trying to find solutions with them can make their anxiety worse. Offering a little statement of sympathy like this can go a long way to validating their feelings and helping them realise they’re not alone.
“I’m here for you”
It’s not your job to make your friend better or make their anxiety go away. But if you’re willing to stand by their side and help them on their journey, make sure you tell them.
Anxiety disorders make you doubt a lot of things – personally it often makes me think I’m being annoying and getting on people’s nerves. So when a loved one reminds me that it’s just my anxiety playing tricks on me and that they’re here for me, it really helps. That’s why this simple statement is one of the most helpful things to say to someone with an anxiety disorder.
“Can you tell me more about what you’re experiencing?”
Approaching a friend about their mental health takes sensitivity. This can make people shy away from the conversation, but avoiding it is the worst thing you can do. If you’re not sure what to say or don’t know what they’re going through – ask them.
Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Speak to them about how their anxiety disorder affects them and give them the space to talk – it helps more than you think.
“It’s ok to feel worried. Can I do anything to make you feel better?”
By saying this, you’ve acknowledged their concerns and giving them the chance to talk about their feelings without being dismissed.
It’s important to focus on solutions and not their fears. You don’t want to further enable their fears because that might make them feel there is something to be afraid of, which could make things worse. Instead, help them focus on what support they need without being dismissive.
“This is not your fault”
Unfortunately there’s still a widespread view that anxiety and mental health can be controlled with will power. Anyone with anxiety will tell you this isn’t true, but it still hurts to hear people say it.
Hearing a loved one acknowledge your anxiety disorder as a real thing can be extremely helpful. It lets us know that you’re taking it seriously and willing to support us.
Remember if you’re worried and you don’t know how to talk to your friend about their mental health it’s best to be open and honest with them.
When it really comes down to it, it’s not necessarily what you say that really matters, but that you’re there to lend your support. The most important thing is to be compassionate. Offer your support without judgement. Sometimes just having someone to listen to your experiences can be extremely helpful.
The best place to start is simply to remind them that they’ve got a friend by their side.