How to help someone with anxiety

One person stacking their hands on some elses to show support

Wondering how you can help a friend, family member, or co-worker who is overwhelmed by anxiety?

We spoke to David Sommers, Ph.D., of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health for some suggestions on how to approach and support a person who might need help.

Remember that while some anxiety is normal, anxiety that interferes with a person’s daily life for long periods of time may be serious.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Consider your approach. How you reach out to a friend or co-worker will differ from how you approach a conversation with a spouse, parent, or child. Consider your relationship and which approaches may be more effective. Will they be receptive or defensive? Your aim is for your concern to be well received.
  • Ask questions. Start by asking how they’re feeling. A common answer is, “I’m fine,” Dr. Sommers says, so be prepared to follow up. You might ask whether they’re sure, because you’ve noticed that they’re withdrawn, sleeping a lot, or agitated, for example.
  • Listen. Sometimes all your loved one needs is for someone to listen. Be mindful of interrupting and resist playing the role of a medical professional. Be aware of your body language, listen, and be encouraging.
  • Normalize their experience. Everyone has experienced some anxiety. Share with your loved one that there have been times you’ve been anxious and that you understand how difficult it can be. Recognizing their feelings is important. Be careful not to minimize them.
  • Provide resources. Prepare and bring with you a list of resources to offer your loved one. This might include the names and numbers of a physician, therapist, or community health clinic that they can reach out to if they’re ready to talk to a professional.
  • Follow up. This piece is important, Dr. Sommers says. Touch base with your loved one every day or two after your conversation to see how they’re doing. Ask whether they’ve contacted a professional for help, and encourage them to do so if they haven’t.

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