Are you wondering how to help someone with anxiety? You’re not alone. Anxiety affects millions of people and has no regard for gender, age, background, or anything else — chances are, you know someone with anxiety.
The tricky part of generalized anxiety disorder is that it can present itself through several symptoms and reactions that we all experience as part of our natural defense systems. It’s important to remember that anxiety is good in small doses. However, repetitive, chronic anxiety can be debilitating and affect us negatively as we try to navigate our daily lives.
If you or someone you love experiences routine anxiety that interferes with socialization, work, school, or family life, there are several things you can do to help. Here we’re reviewing 13 effective ways to learn how to help someone with severe anxiety live a more content, confident, and happy life.
1. Educate Yourself About Anxiety
More than 40 million American adults live with chronic anxiety. It’s the most commonly experienced mental health condition in the US. Though it’s a highly treatable condition, sadly only about one-third of those with an official anxiety disorder diagnosis receive the treatment they need to manage their anxiety and live a full life.
There are various classifications of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few.
Education is key if we want to get better at anything in life. This is especially true when looking for ways to help a loved one deal with the symptoms of their chronic anxiety. It can be extremely helpful to learn as much as possible about how to help someone with anxiety disorder. You can start by teaching yourself about what causes anxiety, common symptoms of anxiety, and effective management techniques.
Don’t just learn by yourself, either. Learn alongside the person with anxiety who you’re hoping to help. They need to know just as much information about their condition as you do. It might be helpful if they learn about some lifestyle changes that might help them decrease the frequency and intensity of their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
2. Learn the Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety manifests in different ways in different people. However, there are similar symptoms that can co-occur. While the following isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, it does represent some of the most common symptoms associated with anxiety. People with anxiety often experience:
- Repetitive feelings of nervousness, fear, or panic
- Constantly feeling wound up or on-edge
- Restlessness and jitteriness
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Quick, shallow breathing
- Angina (chest pains)
- Being easily startled
- Trouble sleeping
People with chronic anxiety may also experience muscle tightness, dry mouth, sweating, irritation, overgeneralizing, and a sense of impending doom. They may feel that the worst is always about to happen, even if there’s no logical reasoning for that type of thought. At times, they may even experience a panic attack.
3. Listen to & Validate Their Feelings
It’s important to make sure you’re able to listen and validate feelings if a loved one with anxiety is seeking reassurance from you. They may seem to want you to legitimize their feelings about “What if this terrible thing happens?” That said, reassurance may not be what they really need. On the contrary, continual reassurance might exacerbate and prolong their symptoms.
Sometimes, it’s better to point out that you recognize their need for reassurance while still gently pointing out that nothing seems to be going on to justify how they’re feeling.
Acknowledging feelings and sharing that you understand that they’re anxious is helpful. You can also share that you don’t want to make them more anxious in the long run by constantly offering reassurance about things that don’t seem to be true.
Follow up by suggesting natural remedies for anxiety and techniques for better managing symptoms — things like:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Getting some physical exercise
- Engaging in mindfulness meditation
- Getting out in nature
- Talking with a professional therapist
“Don’t underestimate how valuable listening to your friend or family is, being able to be supportive of their experience can make a significant difference. It’s often those small moments of listening that can help someone who’s experiencing anxiety to reground into their day.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
4. Know What to Avoid
Of course, you don’t want to do anything that might cause anxiety symptoms to become more frequent or intense. You just want to soothe your loved ones so they’ll feel better and more relaxed, but it can be helpful to know what to avoid, too.
5. Don’t be a know-it-all
Don’t act like a professional mental health counselor unless you are one. You could, however, suggest some methods that have worked for others to help alleviate anxiety symptoms. You can also do some research with your friend or loved one to try and find effective ways to work on decreasing their anxiety symptoms.
6. Don’t blindly give reassurance
Despite feeling like you might be helping, as we touched on above, continuous reassurance about everything can actually have a negative impact and feed somebody’s anxiety.
7. Don’t feed into feelings of doom
It’s important that you’re careful not to feed into the things someone has anxiety about. A good question to ask someone who has consistent feelings of doom is, “Who told you that?”
8. Don’t hide your real feelings, so you don’t hurt your friend’s
Let your friend know that you’re there for them. Admit if you don’t know the best course of action to help them feel better. Be willing to explore current research and effective techniques for minimizing the frequency and intensity of anxiety symptoms.
“While it may not always make sense to you, understanding your friend or family member’s triggers for anxiety can help you best support them as they navigate challenging environments or situations.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
9. Share Helpful Tips & Resources for Anxiety
It might feel overwhelming to try and figure out how to help someone with severe anxiety. It’s OK if you’re not sure exactly where to start. Even if your loved one has already explored on their own, there are so many resources you can suggest to help them. This can include on-topic books, articles, apps, online groups, podcasts, and radio and television shows.
Here are a few authoritative resources that can be very helpful:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Anxiety is such a common mental health condition that there are tons of resources out there for anyone trying to navigate their healing.
“While each person is unique and has their own experiences with anxiety, it’s important to remember that the tips and strategies recommended are like a muscle that needs to be strengthened. The more you practice them, the easier it’ll be to access them in the moment when you need them the most.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
10. Encourage Them to Find Treatment
The good news is anxiety is a very treatable condition. In many cases, adopting new lifestyle choices about where you focus, what you eat, how much exercise you get, and other controllable factors in life can help reduce symptoms to a manageable point. This is an attainable goal for most people who experience anxiety.
Yet there are some cases where symptoms can become so frequent, severe, and debilitating that professional assistance is needed. A trained and skilled therapist can offer information and techniques that are useful in how to treat anxiety. It’s all part of knowing how to help someone with anxiety disorder.
As a friend or loved one of a person with anxiety, it’s not always in your power to help as much as you might like to. Use your best judgment and encourage professional help if needed. The right treatment can ensure that anxiety symptoms are reduced enough to allow someone to return to normal life.
“It’s important to remember that there are resources available to get support for your friend or family member who’s experiencing anxiety. They do not have to struggle alone. Reaching out to a licensed therapist for support can begin the process of getting help with their symptoms.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
11. Introduce Mindfulness Meditation
The many advantages of mindfulness meditation for anxiety should not be underestimated. Meditation offers powerful benefits for all people, especially those living with mental health conditions like chronic anxiety. Meditation can help someone learn to analyze their thoughts as they occur and then take proactive steps to get a handle on their anxiety.
12. Other Holistic Remedies
There are multiple age-old, proven techniques to help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Consider:
- Taking a hot Epsom salt bath
- Diffusing some relaxing essential oils
- Practicing deep breathing
- Attending a hot-Yoga session
- Engaging in a water-only fast
- Burning candles
- Simply stepping outside and breathing in the fresh air
13. Remember to Take Care of Yourself
Loving someone who’s affected by chronic anxiety can be challenging at first. Keep in mind, though, you can only love somebody so much before you need to take a break and recharge your own batteries. Don’t be afraid to practice some self care on your own mental wellbeing, too. This is an important and helpful thing to remember at any time in life, especially if you’re trying to learn how to help someone with anxiety disorder.If your loved one is suffering from chronic anxiety, it may be time to seek treatment. Talkspace offers online therapy geared toward those who want help, but might have trouble finding the time.