Did you know that according to a 2017 survey by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 40 million people all over the world suffer from anxiety, with more emerging each year and plenty remaining undiagnosed or untreated. Why? Well, if we had to venture a guess, it’s probably in large part due to the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental healthcare. Either shamed or dismissed by most people for their struggles, such insensitivity, close-mindedness, and lack of empathy can deter a person from even admitting they have anxiety in the first place, much less actually seeking help and talking to someone about it.
So if you have someone in your life right now experiencing anxiety, know that them even telling you about it is already a great deal of trust in and of itself. So don’t take that for granted. Instead of pushing them away or making things worse by saying all the usual trite expressions — like “It’s all in your head” or “You’re being anxious for no reason” — here are 7 reassuring things you can say instead if you really want to help:
1. “I noticed you being anxious lately and I’m concerned.”
Has a friend or family member of yours been acting tense or on edge lately? Do they seem like they haven’t been sleeping well or are always stressed out lately? If you notice them being anxious, it won’t hurt to reach out and say so. A simple, “Hey, is everything alright? You seem anxious and I’m concerned” will be more than enough to show that you care about the other person and want to comfort them. It shows that you are open to understanding their experience and aren’t in a hurry to try to “fix” their problems for them in a misguided way (Antony & Rowa, 2005).
2. “I think it’s brave of you to…”
Another thing that would help someone with anxiety is by telling them all the ways you think they’re doing well in their battle against it. This is especially true for those who have struggled with it for a while, because they probably already have a good idea of what helps them feel better. Still, even if they seem to have it figured out all on their own already, a little encouragement surely goes a long way, especially from a loved one.
3. “I believe in you.”
Similar to our earlier point, a few words of motivation can certainly make a positive difference in a person’s battle against anxiety (Stein & Craske, 2017). So be sure to tell them that, even if things don’t seem good right now, you wholeheartedly believe that they can overcome whatever problem it is they are facing. List all the good qualities you see in this person and let them know how much you admire them and the strength and resilience it must take to do all that they do. Which brings us to our next point…
4. “It’s not easy having anxiety.”
One of the best things you can do for someone struggling with anxiety is to educate yourself about it first. Anxiety is not a character flaw or a personal choice. Anxiety attacks often occur for no apparent reason, so don’t go asking them to explain why they have anxiety to you. Just being for them is enough, listening to their struggles and offering emotional support. They’ll no doubt be touched by the time you took to better understand what they’re going through, too.
5 “What can I do to help you?”
When in doubt, the best way to help someone with anxiety is to simply ask: “What can I do to help you?” Doing so shows that you want to better accommodate the other person’s needs and that you don’t immediately assume you know what’s best for them or what would help them better than they do. Remember, it’s always best not to offer unsolicited advice unless you’re actually trained to treat people with mental health afflictions (Stearns, 2012).
6. “I’m always here for you.”
That being said, however, please know that reading up more about anxiety isn’t the same as experiencing it first-hand. So don’t make the mistake of saying something like, “Oh, I was really anxious about this thing too once so I understand” because no, you don’t understand. And until you have anxiety yourself you will never understand. But that’s okay; you don’t need to understand what it’s like to have anxiety to empathise with them about. Just simply giving them emotional support and reassuring them that you’ll be there for them no matter what is more than enough.
7. “Would you be open to talking to a professional about it?”
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, it’s always good to reassure the other person that there is no shame in seeking help and reaching out to a mental healthcare professional about their troubles. Anxiety is a highly manageable and treatable mental illness (National Alliance Against Mental Illness, 2018) that they don’t need to struggle with all their lives or all on their own.Showing you care by giving them that gentle nudge to talk about it with a therapist or a counselor is especially helpful if this person is self-conscious about their anxiety.
In the end, even if your heart is in the right place, it isn’t always easy helping someone with anxiety. Hopefully, reading this list has made you see more ways you can be mindful of what you say to them and how you approach the problem together. And if you liked this article and want to learn more about this topic, here’s what you should read next: 8 Things You May Not Realize Are Anxiety, 8 Things People With Anxiety Want You To Know, 7 Habits You Have Because of Your Anxiety, and 7 Things Not To Say To Someone With Anxiety.
- Antony, M. M., & Rowa, K. (2005). Evidence-based assessment of anxiety disorders in adults. Psychological assessment, 17(3), 256.
- National Institute of Mental Health (2017). What Are Anxiety Disorders? Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/anxiety-disorders.shtml
- National Alliance Against Mental Illness (2018). Mental Health by The Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers
- Stearns, P. N. (2012). American fear: The causes and consequences of high anxiety. Routledge.
- Stein, M. B., & Craske, M. G. (2017). Treating anxiety in 2017: optimizing care to improve outcomes. Jama, 318(3), 235-236.