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How to help someone with anxiety

Although it’s normal to experience feelings of worry, stress or unease at certain points in your life, individuals who have anxiety are more likely to experience these emotions on a daily basis. Even if you can’t relate to the often irrational thoughts and feelings that they may be experiencing, it’s important to provide support and guidance where you can. With this in mind, it can help to learn more about what anxiety is, what the signs of a panic attack are, and how to help someone who’s experiencing it. By knowing these key pieces of information, you can extend a helping hand to a loved one when they need it most.

Listen non-judgmentally

The ability to listen with interest will go a long way when helping someone who has anxiety. Anxious thoughts and feelings often trick the brain into overthinking situations or scenarios that aren’t typically deemed ‘dangerous’, but to the individual, these fears can be real and distressing. Creating a safe space for a loved one to speak without risk of judgement is essential, as being unintentionally dismissive won’t make things easier. Instead, give them the validation they need by asking about their experiences – if they’re happy to share these with you, of course. Find out what makes their anxiety feel worse, or better, and ask whether there’s anything you can do to help make them feel more in control of the situation and their thoughts.

Listening without judgement can be incredibly helpful to those with anxiety.

Focus on the positives

Many people living with anxiety may focus on negatives, so try to encourage them to see the positives. By pointing out the small wins, such as they handled a panic attack well, that they ended up being okay, or that you’re proud of them. Anxiety can lead individuals feeling deflated, but with the encouragement of others, it can be easier to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Remind them that periods of anxiety will pass

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that can lead to various uncomfortable, yet temporary, physical sensations, which can vary between individuals. These symptoms are produced as a result of the ‘fight or flight’ response, an innate reaction to a perceived danger. In some cases, a danger could be anything from entering a busy environment, to having a phobia. An individual may experience panic attacks time and time again, yet still feel a sense of impending doom with each one – which can be distressing. Continue to remind them that periods of anxiety will pass, and, although they may not think it at the time, that they’re safe and well. 

Tackle one issue at a time

Anxiety is fuelled by real and practical issues such as debt, bereavement or relationship difficulties, and it’s easy for the mind to become clouded whilst experiencing anxiety. By encouraging your loved one to dissect and tackle these issues one at a time, it may help to alleviate some stress. Some people may benefit from writing their thoughts and feelings down on paper as it can help with identifying certain patterns and triggers that may be responsible for their anxiety. By reminding them that there’s no pressure to tackle everything at once, it might help to put their mind at ease.

Remember that there is only so much you can do to help someone with anxiety, and professional medical help may be needed.

Take care of yourself

Just as looking out for your loved ones is important, it’s just as important to take care of yourself. Be careful not to get drawn into their worries, as this may leave you feeling overwhelmed. If you yourself are dealing with your own problems – be it mental or physical – or find the anxiety rubbing off on you, you may need to set boundaries to avoid taking on too much responsibility. Of course, this doesn’t mean to say that you should ignore someone with anxiety, but rather advise them to seek additional support – whether that’s professionally or through friends and family – to ensure that you’re not solely responsible.

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Remember that you’re not a trained mental health professional. Someone experiencing anxiety may benefit from speaking to their doctor.

Encourage them to seek additional support

Although offering your advice to someone with anxiety may be beneficial to them, it might be more helpful for them to seek additional support. If they experience anxiety regularly and it’s affecting their life day to day, a GP will be able to advise them on the best course of action to take – whether that’s receiving therapy through the NHS, taking medication, or diagnosing an underlying health condition that may be causing the anxiety (for example, an overactive thyroid). There are plenty of resources available to help people with anxiety – it’s all about finding which methods work best for their own personal circumstances.

Making small lifestyle changes

Certain lifestyle choices can contribute to anxiety, from your diet to how much sleep you get at night. Making gradual, positive changes – such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, cutting down alcohol and caffeine intake, as well as establishing a proper sleeping schedule – may help to boost mood and reduce anxious thoughts. Not only do these factors carry mental and emotional benefits, they’re physically beneficial, too. 

However, making these changes, especially all at once, can be overwhelming. Apps can help combat this, allowing users to set achievable goals, as well as track their progress. If this is something that a loved one could benefit from, perhaps suggest this to them. 

How to help someone manage a panic attack

Seeing someone you love experience a panic attack can be scary – especially if it happens out of the blue. That’s why it helps to firstly know how to recognise the symptoms of a panic attack, but also ways that you can help them through it. Doing the following might be beneficial: 

  • Try to stay as calm as possible 
  • Let them know that they might be experiencing a panic attack, and that you’re there to support them 
  • Advise they breathe slowly and deeply rather than hyperventilating – which can make symptoms worse 
  • Encourage them to focus on something that’s structured or repetitive – for example, you could start counting out loud slowly 
  • Get them to do a grounding exercise, such as stamping their feet on the ground 
  • Find a space where they can sit quietly whilst they focus on their breathing 

Take away

Anxiety can be experienced by anyone, and it’s highly likely that you’ll come across someone – whether that’s a friend, family member or colleague – that’s felt this way. Creating a safe space for open, non-judgmental conversation is important, as bottling these issues up can sometimes make things much worse. However, remember there’s a limit on how much you should influence someone else, and they’re ultimately responsible for making their own decisions. By advising, but not pushing, you can help someone with anxiety find the right solutions for them.

Did you know lightbulb icon in a circle with a green border

Another useful self-help technique can be downloading the Evergreen Life app and taking our Sense of Wellbeing Check. This covers a wide range of health-related topics – including questions about anxiety and mental health. Based on your answers, you’ll be given actionable steps you can take towards feeling better.

Reviewed by:

Anna Keeble – Head of Content

  1. Mind (2021) Anxiety and panic attacks. Mind. 
  2. NHS UK (2020) Panic disorder. NHS UK. 
  3. Rath, L (2022) The Link Between Low Blood Sugar and Anxiety. WebMD.
Picture of Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA

Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA

Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA is Clinical Director at Evergreen Life, and a Medical Expert with more than 42 years’ experience as a GP. Brian supports people in staying as fit and well as possible by having more control over their health and healthcare.