8 Expert-Approved Ways to Help Someone With Anxiety
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8 Expert-Approved Ways to Help Someone With Anxiety

When a loved one becomes overwhelmed, these tips can help calm both of you.

It’s normal to worry. Work problems, money difficulties, illnesses, relationship issues and family troubles are among life’s common stressors. Dealing with even one of these situations can make someone feel anxious, and that’s not unusual. But when a friend or family member becomes anxious regularly, and it begins interfering with their life, it can place a burden on their relationships, career and more.

In fact, anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, making anxiety the most common mental illness in the country. Though anxiety is treatable, fewer than half of the people with it seek professional treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Anxiety is part of being human, says James Robert Phillips, a licensed medical health counselor (LMHC) and Director of Behavioral Health Services at Plantation General Hospital in Plantation, Florida. He includes crowds, public speaking, doctor’s appointments and meeting new people as the most common triggers.

But there’s good news for the friends and family of people with anxiety disorders: you can be a calming presence in their lives. We asked Phillips for proven ways to soothe a partner or a pal when anxiety creeps in.

  1. Avoid telling an anxious person to calm down. “Things are OK, you’re fine, just try to breathe,” has little to no effect on an anxious person. On some level, they’re aware that anxiety is irrational. Trying to calm an anxious person may backfire by making them even more anxious.
  2. Make a game of it. Say your pal or partner is anxious about meeting new people or being in a crowd. “Divert their attention by making up a game,” suggests Phillips. “Count the people at the party or in a crowd who are wearing hats, for example. Or, tally the repetitive greetings people offer to others—I did that recently with an anxious pal and it turned out to be fun,” says Phillips.
  3. Create a healthy environment—for both of you. “Living with someone who has a chronic untreated anxiety disorder stresses any relationship,” says Phillips. Be mindful of your partner’s issues, but don’t create an environment that supports the symptoms, he says. In other words, don’t alter your life to placate someone with anxiety. Instead, support them when they don’t give in to their symptoms.
  4. Understand panic attacks. These sudden episodes of intense fear can include shaking, trembling, shortness of breath, sweating and even heart palpitations. They can be as scary for you as they are for the person experiencing one.
  5. Know what to do during a panic attack. When they panic, you should stay calm. Touch the anxious person gently and say calmly, “I’m here for you until you get through this.” Try taking deep, exaggerated breaths yourself to help bring a person back from a panic attack, suggests Phillips. Then, have them feel the pulse on your wrist while you’re deep-breathing. Finally, ask them to talk you through their daily activities, he says. These actions can help de-escalate the symptoms.
  6. Discuss anxious feelings. Anxiety carries a stigma that prevents people from getting the help they need, says Phillips. Encourage them to talk about their anxiety, and share your own worries to blunt any shame they may feel. “There’s no shame in needing help for something that’s completely out of your control—anxiety isn’t a character flaw,” Phillips adds.
  7. Encourage them to seek treatment. “When someone’s daily life is affected by anxiety, that’s a sign they need treatment,” says Phillips. For example, someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) might experience sleep problems, problems concentrating, nervousness, irritability and aches and pains—and seeing a health care professional could help.
  8. Urge them to be open to different strategies. There’s no “best” psychological approach to anxiety treatment, says Phillips. Often, therapists will use a combination of treatments. “There’s clinical research showing that cognitive behavior therapy and medication management are among the effective treatment strategies for anxiety,” he adds.

Though anxiety may never entirely disappear, with treatment and support, people can learn to manage it—and that can mean living a happier life.

Anxiety

Anxiety

It's one thing to be nervous (adrenaline can even help you power through, say, an interview). It's another to suffer sweat-inducing, heart-pounding anxiety -- for no apparent reason -- that makes eating, sleeping, working or enjoy...

ing life difficult. In addition to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), learn about panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias.
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