Helping someone with anxiety
You mean well, and that’s obvious. “Often for friends and loved ones, it can be really difficult to figure out what to say to someone who is anxious,” says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist. “The natural instinct is to assure them that everything is fine and to minimise the problem in order to minimise the anxiety, but it just does not work,” she adds. In your effort to provide reassurance and address their angst, it’s useful to know what not to say to someone with anxiety, lest you make things worse. More importantly, you’ll want to know what to say to someone with anxiety instead.
Trying to comfort someone with “don’t worry” or “this is nothing,” is invalidating, says Hafeez. “Anxiety has a wide range, from mild to severe, and the variables that affect a person are numerous. Depending on a situation, the person’s history with anxiety, the circumstances and repercussions of a problem, anxiety can become overwhelming,” she adds. Remember that they can’t just choose worry or not, so this sentiment is impossible, too. Better language includes simply telling them that you are here for them without trying to offer up solutions or expect them to bounce back quickly. Also let them know if they don’t feel like talking about it, that’s okay, too.
“Get over it”
If it were only that simple. At the top of things that people living with anxiety would like you to know, there’s the fact that it’s impossible to just get over it. “Anxiety, like all mental health states, is personal and subjective,” says Amy Axtell, MA, a licenced psychotherapist. That reaction should never be dismissive. “Not only does saying get over it dismiss the sufferer’s experience, but it also ignores what may be the actual degree of severity,” says Axtell.
Instead, Axtell suggests leading with a sense of sincere interest. “Ask your friend or family member what they’re feeling. What’s triggering them? What do they normally do to find comfort?”