Authored by Tony Robbins
What you will get from this article:
- Learn how to help someone with anxiety through communication and relationship techniques
- Understand what someone suffering from anxiety is likely experiencing
- Develop an action plan of practical steps and strategies to support your loved one struggling with anxiety
If you have someone struggling with anxiety in your life, it can be difficult to know what to do. Your loved one is anxious and afraid, but saying something like “It’ll be fine” only seems to make things worse. Ignoring the issue will only cause more stress or anxiety, not make it go away.
No matter what causes anxiety, stress or worry, understanding what’s happening and being compassionate is key to learning how to help someone with anxiety. It can even turn a relationship-breaker into a situation that ultimately deepens your connection.
HELPING SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY
We all feel and express emotions in different ways. Not everyone thinks and behaves like you do. Learning how to help someone with anxiety means not assuming they’re feeling one way or another just because you would feel that way in their situation.
If an anxious friend comes to you, ask them how they feel instead of telling or assuming. Questions like “Can you tell me more about what’s happening?” or “What are the thoughts going through your head right now?” leave space for a better understanding of the situation.
When learning how to help someone with anxiety, it’s also crucial not to take on their emotions and become upset. This will only make the situation worse for both of you.
Here are nine ways to help a person with anxiety without becoming anxious yourself:
1. OPEN UP COMMUNICATION
Effective communication involves a give-and-take from both parties. Unfortunately, those who are experiencing anxiety may not be able to hold up their side of the communication bargain.
When they are anxious or upset, many people tend to draw inwards. This retreat can come across as agitation, aloofness or other dramatic changes in how they interact with you. Draw them out by asking questions. Saying something as simple as, “You seem to be having a hard time. How can I help you right now?” lets the person know you’re there, you care and they can depend on you.
2. RESERVE JUDGMENT
As an anxious person tells you how they’re feeling, your immediate reaction might be, “No way. That’s not possible.” Take control of your own feelings and let the thought pass. To the anxious person, what they’re feeling and thinking is very real. As they open up to you, new anxieties will surface – including the anxiety that you might be judging them.
Listen to what your friend or family member is telling you. Understand that what you might dismiss as a silly fear is very real to them.
3. AVOID ATTEMPTING AN INSTANT FIX
While it is tempting to try to change their perspective or lighten their mood, phrases like “calm down” or “just relax” give the impression you don’t care about the person. They’ve heard those words before, and they’ve no doubt tried to follow them. Learning to help someone with anxiety means practicing your deep listening skills to find out what they really need from you.
They may not want you to fix their problem at all. They may just want you to be present for them as they download and process their feelings. Anxiety can feel overwhelming and destabilizing, so focus on what you can do to bring stability and perspective at this moment instead of rushing into problem-solving mode.
4. TALK THEM DOWN IF YOU NEED TO
It’s a fine line to walk between helping someone with anxiety and helping them stop the anxiety cycle. Remind them to breathe deeply and get their body into a calmer state. When our physiology changes, so do our emotions. Heart breathing can be another useful state-changer to help people get over their panic or stressed moment. Guide them through some relaxation techniques or some quick breathing exercises to give them the support they need to pull themselves out of a heightened state.
5. HELP THEM CHANGE THEIR STATE
The concept of state is so pivotal to how anxiety works that it is worth an additional mention. Research consistently shows that emotions are not just mental states; they are also accompanied by a host of physiological and behavioral changes. Anxiety and fear occur and are felt at all levels, creating a cycle that feeds itself. If you are learning how to help someone with anxiety who is very close to you, learning more about this cycle can be very useful. Not only will you be able to help educate them about this process, but you can better understand what helps – and what doesn’t – when offering assistance.
When helping someone with anxiety, remind them that learning techniques to change their physical state also changes their emotional and mental state. Emotions are linked to movement in our body, and body language sends signals to the brain. For example, slouching and shallow breathing may produce lethargic or depressed feelings, while maintaining good posture and breathing deeply help produce feelings of clarity and well-being. As a result, you can change your state through physical movement. Understanding this link is central to understanding how to help a person with anxiety. As Tony says, take control of your consistent emotions and begin to consciously and deliberately reshape your daily experience of life.
6. PRACTICE COMPASSION
When helping someone with anxiety, you need to avoid taking any of their feelings personally. Remember, this person’s anxiety is about them, not you. It can be particularly difficult when your partner struggles with anxiety and withdraws physically or emotionally. If this occurs, it’s time to treat them gently and encourage them to express their feelings. Show them you are there for them, but remember they may need to work out some of their emotions on their own.
If they express the need to be by themselves, don’t feel upset or frustrated. Take a step back and let them know you are available if and when they need to talk.
7. ENCOURAGE THEM
Anxiety can often manifest as avoiding tasks or emotions that frighten the sufferer. These things that they put off may seem trivial to you, such as scheduling car maintenance or making a doctor’s appointment. Understanding how to help someone with anxiety can mean encouraging them to make an appointment that they’ve been putting off or starting a meditation practice to help center themselves
8. CREATE A SUPPORT SYSTEM
Offering support is one of the best things you can do when learning how to help someone with anxiety. However, you can’t be there for them all the time. If you believe the person you are helping is really struggling and may be a danger to themselves, you should suggest they see a therapist. In less dire situations, suggesting they work with a health coach is the perfect way to increase their support network.
Coaching is one of the most powerful tools we have to make permanent, lasting change. This is because coaching entails professional techniques to empower a person while enhancing their support system. Coaches know how to help people with anxiety and have experience with different types of emotional roadblocks. Coaching can help uncover the reasons underlying someone’s anxiety – a crucial first step for mastering their fear. It can also help them develop tools to use to diffuse their anxiety, cope with stressful situations and find new and better ways to unlock an extraordinary life.
9. PRACTICE SELF-CARE
Sometimes when we want to help others, we forget to take care of ourselves. This can lead to fatigue and resentment. Take time to tend to your own needs so that you can be the best support for them and for you; it’ll be better for your relationship and your own well-being.