When a loved one feels anxious, there are a few things you can do to help. Listening, checking in, and helping them support themselves can make a difference.
Everybody experiences anxiety to some degree. It’s a normal and unavoidable part of life, especially if you’re anticipating a stressful situation or going through any kind of change.
But for some people, anxiety can snowball into unmanageable worry and fear that interfere with day-to-day life.
Anxiety disorders are common and very treatable, but people who experience them may need help managing their symptoms. Below, we’ll go over some of the best ways you can support someone with anxiety.
Anxiety can be isolating, in part because many people are eager to change the subject or try to “cheer up” their loved one. Instead, encourage your loved one to recognize and name their anxiety.
It might sound counterintuitive to encourage someone with anxiety to talk about what’s worrying them. But in fact, putting negative feelings into words can make them less intense.
So, if you’re worried that you won’t know what to say, know that active listening might make the biggest difference of all. Ask them about their experience of anxiety and what their triggers are. If you lead with curiosity, you can’t go wrong.
If the person has a hard time talking about their anxiety out loud, you can encourage them to write it down instead. Using journaling prompts like these can help focus the mind and get into a writing flow.
These are two of the most effective home remedies for anxiety.
Meditation can be performed alone or in a group. Some people with anxiety find that guided meditation is helpful, since it can help redirect the mind and slow down racing thoughts.
Many meditation apps are available, including Headspace, Calm, and Shine, with guided meditations designed specifically for anxiety.
You could also send your loved one a link to some apps for anxiety. They can browse and see what works best for them.
You can also encourage them to try a simple deep breathing exercise for anxiety.
To help them practice, you could even offer to meditate or do some deep breathing with them.
When someone is experiencing anxiety, they may be so overwhelmed that they isolate themselves without meaning to.
Reaching out and asking for help requires energy that they might not feel able to summon. It may be especially challenging for people who have social anxiety.
By checking in with them regularly, you can remind them that they’re not alone, and give them a sense of community and structure.
You can also ask the person what kind of check-ins would be most helpful for them.
Some people might simply love to know that you’re thinking of them, while others would benefit from something more specific — say, a gentle reminder to take their medication, or a daily funny cat video to distract them.
Everybody’s anxiety looks a little different, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, provided they are happy to share answers.
A body of evidence suggests that regular exercise can improve mental health and help the brain cope better with stress.
But being overwhelmed by anxiety can also make it hard to prioritize exercise, so one way you can support your loved one is by offering to be their workout buddy.
Walking, yoga, light jogging, or an easy bike ride are all great options.
Keep in mind that certain intense exercise, like HIIT workouts, can stimulate the body’s fight-or-flight response. This can indirectly lead to a worsening of anxiety: The physical impact of a workout (shortness of breath, an increased heart rate, sweating) can mimic the symptoms of a panic attack.
While it doesn’t help to push someone into an exercise routine when they’re not willing, gentle encouragement and companionship can help them (and you!) get the benefits.
A good therapist can be an invaluable tool for anyone dealing with anxiety. A psychologist can provide talk therapy, while a psychiatrist can prescribe medication.
But the task of finding a therapist, and dealing with the logistics of insurance coverage, can be daunting.
If they’re ready to take this step, offer to help them find the support they need.
Here are a few helpful places to start:
- American Psychological Association: find a psychologist by ZIP code
- American Psychiatric Association: find a psychiatrist by ZIP code
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: find a therapist who specializes in:
- anxiety and specific anxiety disorders
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
A growing number of online therapy platforms are also available, including BetterHelp and Talkspace. Online therapy may be a more accessible and affordable option for some people.
If the person you’re helping has health insurance, you can also look through their plan’s provider network, or call the insurer directly if you’re unable to find professionals in their area.
Once they find a therapist, they may still need support to stick with it. Some people with anxiety may find relief straight away when they begin therapy, but for others, it may take several sessions.
The same is true with many medications for anxiety: It often takes weeks to notice a difference. If they seem reluctant to keep attending therapy or taking a medication, encourage them to give it time.
You can get more tips and resources for finding a therapist from Psych Central’s Find a Therapist resource.
Anxiety is a blanket term that incorporates a huge number of different conditions and symptoms, so one of the most helpful things you can do is arm yourself with knowledge.
You can also delve into Psych Central’s:
- list of anxiety disorders
- breakdown of 10 types of therapy for anxiety
- guide to home remedies for anxiety
Sometimes, what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.
When you’re trying to support someone with anxiety, it’s important to avoid minimizing or stigmatizing their experience — for example, by saying things like, “You worry too much.”
Avoid trying to dispel their anxieties with logic. It’s fine to offer reassurance, but in most cases, the person with anxiety knows that their fears aren’t rational. Saying things like “That’s never going to happen” may not be helpful.
Also avoid putting pressure on them to “fix” the problem, or do more than they feel comfortable with.
It’s natural to want to help, but sometimes focusing too much on active solutions can make someone with anxiety feel rushed and overwhelmed.
Instead, make sure you really listen to what they tell you, and allow them to move at their own pace.
It’s important not to lose sight of your own needs. Taking care of someone else’s emotional well-being can take a heavy toll, so make sure you’re not taking on their problems to the detriment of your own mental health.
When you fill your own cup, you have more to give to other people.
If you start to feel drained, take a step back and prioritize some self-care. That could mean doing something specific — like yoga, baking, or crafts — or simply giving yourself the gift of downtime.
Scheduling “me time” at a particular time each week can be a helpful way for empathetic people to make sure they don’t neglect their own needs.
It’s also important to set boundaries when you’re supporting someone with anxiety. Be realistic about how much time and energy you can give. Don’t be afraid to gently set limits.
Remember that while what you’re doing is incredibly valuable, it’s not your job to “fix” anyone else — and if you take responsibility for someone else’s behavior, you risk enabling them, which won’t help either of you.
Living with anxiety can be overwhelming and exhausting, but it’s a lot easier with a solid support system.
Just by showing up, you’re making a huge difference.
You’re reminding them that they’re not alone, and that there is hope.
Here are some additional resources to help you: