If a friend or loved one has anxiety, then it can feel like you are helpless or out of your depth. You might be wondering how to help someone with anxiety — what do you say? What do you do?
Although it can be hard to know how to support someone with anxiety, you don’t have to be a mental health expert to help — there are some ways that you can be there for that person without any special training at all.
In the article below, we’ll be talking about how to support someone with anxiety. This could be a friend or family member, your partner, or a child or teenager.
We’ll be providing you with some helpful tips and information about anxiety, such as what to say to someone with anxiety, how to deal with anxiety in relationships and how to help children with anxiety. We’ll also be including some anxiety management techniques, such as breathing techniques for anxiety.
For a more general overview of anxiety, you can head to our ‘What is Anxiety?’ page.
How to tell if someone has anxiety
Although you might suspect that someone you’re close to is suffering from anxiety, it’s not always easy to tell. Unlike physical health problems which can display more visible signs, mental health problems can be harder to spot, especially as many of the symptoms are experienced psychologically by that person.
There are, however, certain signs and behaviours to keep an eye out for if you think that a friend, partner or family member has anxiety.
Here are some signs that may indicate that someone has anxiety:
- They seem to worry a lot about things
- They voice fears and worries to you that seem extreme or misplaced
- They seem tense and on-edge a lot of the time (appearing restless or jumpy)
- They can be irritable and snappy
- They may suddenly become teary or appear overwhelmed
- They struggle to make decisions and may deliberate for a long time
- They ask for reassurance a lot
- They appear tired and lacking in energy
- They talk about trouble sleeping
- They appear to have problems concentrating or remembering things
- They avoid certain social situations
- They need things to be done in a certain way and can sometimes appear controlling
- They don’t appear to enjoy the things that they used to
- They withdraw from social circles and can be hard to see or get hold of
- They appear to be drinking more or using drugs
If you have recognised several of these signs in the person you’re worried about, then it may be that they are suffering from anxiety.
At this point, you may want to talk to them about how they are feeling and provide some support. Avoid listing these symptoms as ‘proof’ — they might feel worried or not realise themselves that these are symptoms of anxiety. They might not be ready or comfortable to talk about it with you.
Instead, be gentle and tactful. Mention that you’ve noticed a few things and that you’re here for them. There are some helpful ways to start these conversations — in the section below, you’ll find some useful tips for talking about anxiety.
Talking about anxiety might seem a bit scary to you. You might not know what to say to someone with anxiety if they bring it up — after all, you can’t provide answers or make it go away, so is there anything you can really do to help?
The answer is yes. You might not be a mental health expert, but there are lots of ways you can support someone with anxiety. There are things you can do or say that your loved one will appreciate, and that will make a difference.
In the section below, we’ll go over how to talk to someone with anxiety, including some of the things that you can say and what not to say to someone with anxiety.
What to say to someone with anxiety
Even if you want to talk to a loved one with anxiety about how they’re doing, it can be hard to know how to open up a conversation. Knowing what to say to someone with anxiety — and what not to say — can be a bit daunting.
Here are some things you can do to help when you want to talk to someone with anxiety:
- Reach out first: let them know that you’ve noticed that they don’t seem 100% at the moment. Tell them that you care and that you’re here to support them.
- Don’t pressure them: if they don’t want to talk to you yet, then give them a bit of space and time. Follow their lead and go at their pace.
- Listen: ask questions, and give that person space and time to speak. Avoid interrupting with solutions or unsolicited advice. Just be an ear — if they want your opinion, they will ask (but be tactful and gentle with what you say).
- Reassure: opening up about mental health can be scary. Treat your friend or family member with respect and kindness, and reassure them that you are here for them. Remind them as well that there is plenty of support and treatment options out there — whether it’s talking therapies or medication like propranolol.
What not to say to someone with anxiety
There are a few things that you should avoid saying to someone with anxiety:
- Try not to respond in a way that minimises their experience (such as telling them it’s all in their head, or that other people have it worse).
- If you don’t have an anxiety disorder, avoid offering unsolicited advice. Chances are, you have not been in this situation before and your idea of a solution probably won’t work. Try not to be pushy or pressure them down a treatment route.
- Try not to compare and find a similar experience unless you also have anxiety — there is a difference between normal anxious feelings and having an anxiety disorder.
- Don’t ignore their anxiety. If they’re obviously not feeling well and want to talk to you about it, acknowledge it rather than skirting around the subject.
How to explain anxiety to someone
If you have anxiety or a loved one has anxiety and you want to explain it to somebody else, it can be hard. How do you explain something they can’t see and might not understand?
It can be difficult to know where to start, but one thing you can do is describe how anxiety makes you feel — physical symptoms, thoughts and feelings. The more someone knows, the more they will understand.
If you find you are struggling to describe anxiety in your own words, you can always point someone to a helpful article online. We’ve included some useful mental health resources at the bottom of this guide.
How to deal with anxiety in relationships
Managing your mental health in a relationship is important. If you’re in a committed and loving relationship, then hopefully you will be there to support each other through life’s ups and downs.
This can be harder if one or both of you have a mental health problem like anxiety, diagnosed or otherwise. Being in a relationship with someone who has anxiety (or mixed anxiety and depression) may be challenging and stressful at times.
If your partner has anxiety, learning more about it will help you better understand and support them. It’s also important to talk to them about their worries and feelings — use the ‘talking about anxiety’ section above if you need more guidance on how to deal with these conversations.
What is relationship anxiety?
It’s normal to feel doubt or some insecurity about your relationship at some point, especially during the start of a relationship. However, if you find that you — or your partner — are regularly questioning your feelings, the other person’s feelings, or the relationship, then it may be relationship anxiety.
If you haven’t heard of ‘relationship anxiety’, it refers to the feelings of worry, insecurity, and doubt that can pop up in a relationship. These anxious feelings can be constant and persistent, affecting your daily life and your relationship itself. It may be another part of having generalised anxiety disorder.
Relationship anxiety can cause you to feel emotionally distressed, exhausted and unmotivated, as well as having physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
How to deal with relationship anxiety
Whether it’s you or your partner experiencing it, relationship anxiety can feel worrying. But it doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship — or that you will never have a successful relationship ever.
Here are some ways you can deal with relationship anxiety together:
- Practise good communication — be respectful and kind
- Talk about the anxiety and how it tends to be expressed
- Avoid acting on impulsive feelings
- Try to focus more on the present rather than worrying about the future (which can lead to a negative thought spiral)
- Separate your (or your partner’s) ‘anxious self’ from your/their ‘true self’ — be aware that any negative thoughts and criticisms are probably the anxiety talking, rather than the person
If you or your partner has relationship anxiety it can be tough, but knowing more about it and how to deal with relationship anxiety will help.
How to help a child with anxiety
Just like adults, children and young people feel worried and anxious from time to time. This could be for all sorts of reasons — they could be worried about changes, like starting school or moving house, for example.
Children can feel anxious about various different things, and these concerns and worries will change at different ages. A lot of worries are a normal part of growing up.
But for some children, anxiety can become more of a problem. This could be for all sorts of reasons, such as a change they’ve found difficult (like a house move), or a distressing experience (such as a car accident). Some kids are just more likely to be worried or anxious than others.
The signs in children with anxiety can be similar to those in adults. In addition, you may notice that young children become tearful or clingy, or have angry outbursts. They may have sleeping problems, such as waking up a lot in the night, having nightmares or bedwetting.
Types of anxiety in children and teenagers
There are a few common types of anxiety in children and types of anxiety disorders in teenagers:
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD): sometimes, children may feel anxious or worried a lot of the time, rather than about one particular thing. This is the most common type of anxiety in adults — you can read more about it on our anxiety disorders page.
- Separation anxiety: worries about not being with a parent or carer can be common in young children and babies, and can make settling into playgroups or school hard to start with. It may be an indication of other issues in older children.
- Specific phobias or fears: it's normal for young kids to feel afraid of the dark, monsters, big animals, or water. Most of the time, adults can help them to calm down and feel safe again. A phobia is when this fear becomes more intense, extreme, and overwhelming.
- School-based anxiety: children can become anxious about going to school, schoolwork, friendships or bullying, especially if they're changing school. You might see this as your child crying, feeling sick or appearing tired in the morning.
- Social anxiety: teenagers are more likely to suffer from social anxiety than younger children. Everyday activities like answering the phone or shopping can cause overwhelming anxiety and fear. You can read more about it on our anxiety disorders page.
Less common anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may occasionally affect children but are usually seen in adults.
How to deal with anxiety in children
If you’re wondering how to help a child or a teenager with anxiety, there are a few things you can do as a parent or carer.
- Firstly, it's important to talk to your child about their feelings. Reassure them and let them know that it’s okay to talk about anxiety or worries.
- Stick to normal daily routines to help provide some stability and reassurance for them.
- Teach your child to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves — how anxiety makes their brain feel and their body feel.
- Encourage your child to manage their anxiety and ask for help when they need it. Work together to find solutions and coping techniques such as breathing exercises.
- Try not to become overprotective — avoiding situations that you know will worry your child won’t get rid of their anxiety and could stop them from doing things in the future.
- If you think your child has school-based anxiety, let their teacher know. They may know more about how to help a child with anxiety in the classroom.
If your child's anxiety seems to be long-lasting, severe and affects their day-to-day life, then it's a good idea to get some help. Visiting the GP is a good place to start.
Knowing exactly how to help someone with anxiety doesn’t always come naturally. If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, it can be hard to know what to do or say.
However, reading up on anxiety and learning more is a great first step — as is just being open and honest. Talking to your friend or family member and showing them that you are there to support them will mean a lot.