What Not To Say To Someone Who Is Struggling With Anxiety

It's not easy to see someone we care about struggling with anxiety. We want to help them and take them out of their anxious state, but being able to accomplish such a feat can feel helpless in the moment.

Pediatric psychologist Joseph McGuire, Ph.D., says that anxiety often gets overlooked (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). "With other medical illnesses, you may be able to see physical symptoms. But with anxiety, you don't necessarily see what the person is dealing with," McGuire explains. "So it's important to be sensitive to what the person with anxiety is going through, even if it doesn't make sense to you."

Some people may feel uncomfortable talking to someone who is experiencing anxiety, especially those who are used to keeping their worries to themselves. Others may have trouble relating to the anxious person in their life because they aren't naturally empathetic and have never felt the same fear themselves (via Counselling Directory).

While talking it out can certainly be helpful, there are some things you should avoid saying to someone who is struggling with anxiety. 

What not to say to an anxious person

Since anxiety is often misunderstood, it's especially important to not dismiss the person's fear. Phrases like, "Just get over it," "Calm down," or, "There's nothing to worry about" not only aren't helpful, but they downplay the person's feelings.

You also want to avoid telling them that everything will be ok, because the truth is that it might not. Yes, some concerns may seem unlikely to you, but to the person struggling, they are very real. If you give "blind reassurance" you risk losing that person's trust (via TalkSpace). Also, don't place judgment on their fear.

Along the same lines, it's disingenuous to say you know how they feel, especially because you might not. Not only are you bringing the center of attention to yourself, but you're glossing over the person's pain. When struggling with anxiety, there is an irrational fear involved, so comparing your experience when encountering a rational fear is an entirely different thing (via Psych Central).

Though it can be difficult knowing how to help, there are some helpful things you can say to a person struggling with anxiety.

What you should say to someone who is anxious

The first thing you want to do when helping someone with anxiety is give the person your full attention and allow them to vent. Being heard and validated can do a lot to allay a person's fear of being vulnerable. It also helps them get their feelings out, which can be highly cathartic.

Once they have poured out all they need to, let them know that you are there for them and they aren't alone (via WebMD). Then ask them what you can do to help. Everyone is different and you never know what they need until you ask.

Finally, therapist Catherine Richardson, LPC, says to set the scene for future times when they may be stressed and worried, saying, "Let them know they can come to you when they feel anxious and that you would like to be there for them," (via Verywell mind).

The best thing you can do when trying to help someone with anxiety is to allow them to feel their feelings and confide in you. It can make the world of difference to know they're not alone.