How to Help Someone With Anxiety

Ways to help a loved one with anxiety

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Anxiety is a normal part of life. In fact, a healthy dose of worry is even considered protective since it alerts us to danger. However, if you notice that a friend, family member, or loved one is overly worried about things like daily tasks, their family’s safety, or situations that others see as non-threatening, this healthy level of anxiety may have turned excessive.

And while it might be difficult to watch a friend or family member experience anxiety, there are things you can do to help. Here are nine ways to support someone with anxiety. 

Learn About Anxiety

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults age 18 or older, or 18.% of the population each year, making it the most common mental illness in the United States. And while anxiety is a treatable disease, only about one-third of those diagnosed receive treatment. 

Since anxiety is such a complex disorder, it can be difficult to define and diagnose with a single set of general criteria. Because of this, mental health professionals have broken down the disorder into several categories, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD is characterized by excessive worry, thoughts, emotions, and actions that occur most of the time for at least six months. People with GAD typically worry about everyday activities such as work, money, family, and health.

Panic Disorder

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, panic disorder occurs in people who have recurrent unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear, anxiety, or discomfort. Some people experience a need to flee until the episode is over, which usually peaks in a matter of minutes.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Also called social phobia, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says this type of anxiety is characterized by an intense fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. Because of this, they often avoid these types of situations, and if they can’t, they experience significant anxiety and stress.

Understand the Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety can manifest in many different ways and levels of severity. But the symptoms or signs are often the same. While not an exhaustive list, the following physical symptoms, anxious thoughts, and behaviors are some of the most common. 

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle tightness
  • Restlessness 
  • Wound-up or on edge
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pain 
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Stomach aches or nausea 
  • Headaches
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feelings of panic, fear, or nervousness
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • All-or-nothing thinking
  • Irritable
  • Overgeneralizing 
  • A feeling of impending doom
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Believing the worst will happen 
  • Problems falling or staying asleep 

Acknowledge the Anxiety 

Helping someone with anxiety starts with understanding and recognizing the signs of excessive worry and learning how to best support them.

Many people with an anxiety disorder don’t recognize what is going on, says psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine.

“Friends and family often observe that their loved one needs help with anxiety, sometimes better than the loved one themselves,” Saltz says.

If your friend or loved one is frequently asking some form of “what if something terrible happens” and then looking to you for reassurance, Saltz says by reassuring them, you are actually perpetuating their anxiety.

Instead, she recommends pointing out that because you care about them, you notice they are reassurance-seeking, and it's actually making them more anxious in the long run. Then, Saltz says you can suggest methods of decreasing their anxiety such as meditation practice, exercise, deep breathing, or talking to a therapist. 

Listen and Help Facilitate a Plan

“If you know someone who is struggling with anxiety, reach out to them and provide support by just listening to what they have to say,” says Catherine Richardson, LPC, a Talkspace therapist. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, Richardson says to ask them how you can help.

“Let them know they can come to you when they feel anxious and that you would like to be there for them,” she says. 

Together, you can come up with a plan to facilitate this process, such as meeting in person, talking on the phone, or connecting online. Richardson also recommends asking them if there is something they enjoy doing like going to the park, going to a particular restaurant, or watching a favorite movie, that you could do together. 

But most importantly, she says, encourage them to seek help if you feel like they are really struggling and could benefit from therapy. 

Recognize What Can Help

In addition to receiving professional medical help, individuals struggling with anxiety are encouraged to seek out ways to help manage their symptoms at home. There are a variety of approaches and activities people can try as part of an overall treatment plan, including:

  • Regular exercise or any type of physical activity.
  • Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation management
  • Sleep
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine (both can trigger anxiety and panic attacks)
  • Challenging negative thoughts and focusing on what you can control
  • Limiting worry time, but not fighting it (giving a time limit of 10–20 minutes to worry through all of the issues that bother you, then turning it off)

Know What Is Not Helpful

According to Saltz, it’s important to understand that continuing to be the one to say “don’t worry about that because…” is not actually helping, even if your friend or loved one thinks it is. “You can't make someone stop seeking reassurance, but you can tell them it's actually making the situation worse,” she says. 

Another mistake to avoid, Richardson says, is taking on the role of a clinical professional. "Even if you have experience with anxiety, you don't always know what's best for someone else," she says.

Instead, Richardson recommends being supportive and transparent and let your friend or loved one know you're there for them. "You can also share what might have worked for you, but then give them space and unconditional positive regard as they navigate their own journey," she says.

It’s also important to avoid judging and blaming a loved one when they are feeling anxious. Even when you’re the most frustrated, stop, take a breath, and step back. They need to see that you love them unconditionally, even when anxiety is high.

Set Limitations

“You may suggest help, but at the end of the day, you cannot force help,” Saltz says. 

When this happens, Saltz says you can help them find a therapist or offer to accompany them to the session, but you can't actually force them to go or force them to participate in a meaningful way.

Knowing your limitations also includes taking care of yourself. This is especially true if you are in a relationship with someone who is dealing with anxiety. By talking to a mental health expert, you can better understand your role and how to best manage emotions while supporting a loved one.

Share Resources

Even if your friend or loved one has a list of resources or websites dedicated to anxiety, you can still research helpful sites, books, articles, and apps to share with them. If you have access to a doctor or mental health expert familiar with treating anxiety, you can also ask them for resources.

Here are some to start: 

Know When It’s Time to Ask for Help

Even though the symptoms of anxiety can feel overwhelming and permanent, anxiety is highly treatable. If someone you love is experiencing pervasive anxiety, or you have concerns that anxiety is interfering with daily life, encourage them to seek help from their primary care physician or mental health professional.

Of all the ways to help someone with anxiety, this may be the most important one. 

As a friend or loved one, your role is to offer support, not treatment. Offer to assist with locating a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist that treats anxiety. Talk to them about online and in-person therapy options.

Individuals living with anxiety can often feel better by undergoing a combination of therapies, including psychotherapy, medication, and self-management.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & Statistics. n.d.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders. Last revised July 2018. 

  3. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Social Anxiety Disorder. n.d. 

By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on mental health, fitness, nutrition, and parenting.