Here are 8 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to Someone With Anxiety

Let’s face it: we’ve all experienced anxiety at some point in our lives. For some, it’s uncomfortable in the moment but fleeting. For others, it’s a constant state of fear and worry that affects their ability to function on a daily basis.

If someone you know is feeling anxious, it’s natural to want to provide comfort and support. The problem? You might not always have the know-how. And despite having good intentions, you may actually make matters worse.

That’s why it’s important to know what not to say to someone with anxiety.

What Not to Say to Someone With Anxiety

“Calm down.”

This often has the opposite effect.

“By telling someone (or yourself) to calm down, you’re now putting pressure on yourself to make your anxiety go away,” says Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFT. “This rarely, if ever, works because we don’t have control over what automatically shows up. So the more you fight your anxiety, the more intense it can get.”

Related: 101 Anxiety Quotes to Help You Get Through and Lift Your Spirits

“There’s nothing to be anxious about.”

Even if there’s no obvious reason for their anxiety, what they are feeling is real to them.

“What they’re experiencing is real and needs to be taken seriously. When someone feels invalidated like this, this can heighten their anxiety because they feel ‘crazy’ or ‘out of control,’” Edelstein explains.

“Stop worrying about it.”

Research shows that worrying helps us temporarily feel less anxious because it makes it seem like we’re working and problem-solving.

“Unfortunately, worrying is more like problem-solving gone haywire,” Edelstein states. “When someone is anxious, they’re unlikely to give up this coping mechanism so easily because it does work temporarily.”

“It will be fine.”

Giving someone false hope isn’t helpful.

“Since we’re not psychic, there’s no way to know whether something will work out fine or be a total disaster,” says Edelstein. “The anxious part of them will only argue against this statement because there’s no way to know for sure. There’s a chance it’ll be fine, but in an anxious moment, it may not seem possible.”

“This is what you need to do.”

Anxiety treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Not everyone with anxiety is the same person, which means that not everyone with anxiety can cope with it in the same way. It can be really frustrating for someone with anxiety to hear that they need to do the same strategies over and over and over again when they may not work for them,”Kait Towner, LMHC, RPT, CCPT, IMH-E, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, Infant Mental Health Specialist, and Child Therapy Business Coach, explains.

“When was the last time you saw your therapist?”

This is a very sensitive question to many people who experience mental health challenges.

“Yes, it is incredibly helpful for those with anxiety to work collaboratively with a therapist or other provider,” Towner states. “However, treatment should be determined by the individual and their therapist, not a concerned loved one.”

“Are you taking your meds?”

Never bring up the topic of medication—it’s a sensitive subject for many.

“This question can be just as sensitive if not more sensitive to ask someone with anxiety than when they last saw their therapist. Keep treatment loop between the medication provider and the individual with anxiety,” Towner explains.

“You’re making everyone else anxious.” 

This person isn't intentionally trying to make others anxious. This statement can come off as very insensitive

"We all know what it feels like when someone else’s anxiety starts to become contagious … it does not feel good! However, most of us do not intend for our anxiety to spread. We might need to talk to others and vent, but we don’t intend to make others feel bad. Knowing that our anxiety was related to others feeling anxious is not going to help; it might increase guilt, shut the person down from talking about their experiences, and prevent them from sharing their worries in the future," says Michele Goldman, psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation media advisor.

How to Talk To Someone With Anxiety

It's clear that there are things that you shouldn't say to people with anxiety. So what should you do instead?

Validate what is valid

When someone is anxious, the best way to help is to make the individual feel heard and understood.

"Normalize that anxiety happens to all of us," Goldman states. "When you do this, it can help others feel that what they're experiencing is understandable, that they're not 'losing it' or 'too much.' It connects us to each other when we hear, 'I've been there.'"

Challenge the anxiety and lean into it

While it's natural to want to avoid uncomfortable emotions, it's important to process what you're feeling in order to move on.

"Most of what we do with anxiety is avoid it, and we encourage each other 'don't think about that' or 'don't worry about that' when in fact that is teaching us to avoid, and never really solves the problem," says Goldman. "When we can, lean into the anxiety to start to reinforce to yourself that you can manage it."

Goldman adds that helping someone figure out baby steps they can take to approach the anxious trigger in a safe and controlled way can help, and you can even help them by leaning in with them. "What this means is that if they're anxious about going out to a social gathering, you can offer to attend with them as a buffer."

Talk through the worst-case and best-case scenario

It’s a simple question, but it forces you to think about things in a new way and in doing so, reframe your perspective.

“When someone suffers from anxiety, they tend to get tunnel vision and see the worst-case scenario as the only possibility,” Edelstein explains. “Help them broaden their perspective by recognizing that while there is a worst-case scenario, there’s also a potential best-case too.”

Ask what they would say to a friend

Think about what advice is both comforting and compassionate.

“Most of us are much more capable of extending compassion to others than ourselves. Have them practice self-compassion by pretending they’re talking to a friend or loved one. What would they say? What advice would they offer? How might they comfort their friend? These statements are likely very different and much more helpful than what they tell themselves,” Edelstein states.

Related: 12 Best Apps to Relieve Anxiety, Because Everyone Needs to Breathe Easier Right Now

Tell them to name what they see around them

This helps you connect to the present, rather than future-focused worry.

“This is a simple grounding exercise that will help them reorient themselves to the present and relax their body,” says Edelstein. “Saying it out loud has been shown to reduce emotional reactivity, which is also known as ‘Name It To Tame It.’”

Offer to do an activity with them.

Finding healthy distractions is important.

“These can include listening to music, taking a mindful walk, or watching a funny video, which can help them calm down, preventing their anxiety from turning into full-blown panic,” Edelstein explains. “Giving ourselves space to do something enjoyable also gives the brain time to consider alternatives to the worst-case scenario.”

“I see how uncomfortable this is for you. It will pass eventually.”

Negative emotions are temporary, so remind them of that.

“Body sensations and feelings are impermanent and transient. If we allow them the space to move through us, they tend to peak then dissipate. Instead of trying to immediately make them go away, which often makes it worse, acknowledge that it’s uncomfortable and that it will eventually move on,” says Edelstein.

Validate their worries

If you’ve been through something similar, it can be helpful to say that you get what they are feeling - to help them feel less alone in their feelings.

“This should of course be said if the individual is worried about something that you genuinely have worried about before! This statement can be so normalizing and validating for individuals with anxiety,” Towner states.

Related: 15 Best Anxiety Journals to Reduce Stress and Help You Feel a Little Calmer Right Now

Ask them what they need

The number one thing you can do to help those with anxiety is to simply ask how you can help or what they need.

“Asking what your specific loved one needs versus putting on them what you think they need puts them in the driver's seat towards regulation,” Towner explains.

“How can I help?”

We can’t presume to know what someone else needs. That’s why it’s important to ask.

“Asking how you can help someone with anxiety is one of the best responses you can make,” says Towner. “This gives the individual power and control over their anxiety and healing.”

Let them know what helps you when you're feeling anxious

Experience anxiety yourself and have strategies that benefit you? Share them!

“This can be a great response to someone experiencing anxiety themselves. This again puts the individual with anxiety in the driver’s seat in regards to whether they want to try the strategies you mention,” Towner states.

Next, read these 15 books to help with anxiety.


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