DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am not a medical professional, counselor, therapist, psychologist, or any of the like there of. I am not licensed to give professional advice in terms of mental health disorders & medical advice. All statements below are my own personal experiences and personal advice. I am not liable for any outcomes or decisions made based off of this writing or other articles written by myself on this website. Please see a licensed, medical professional for mental health advice and/or counseling.
If you have chronic anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, social anxiety, or anything similar to those, you’ve probably had someone respond to you in many different ways, and probably in insensitive ways too.
I have gotten what feels like every response in the book when telling someone I’m anxious.
- “You’re fine”
- “It’s just nerves”
- “You’ll be fine, just calm down.”
- “Don’t worry about it!”
- “Well, just don’t think about it too much”
- “Have you prayed about it?”
- “Just keep praying about it”
- “Maybe you just need to sleep some more”
- “It’s just stress”
- “You’re just too busy, you need to slow your schedule down”
- “Huh, weird”
- “Maybe you just need to eat”
And my personal favorite…
“Don’t be so anxious!”
When you say some of the phrases above, in your mind, it sounds like you’re being supportive but what’s really happening is you’re dismissing the very real feelings and emotions the other person is having. So, I guess take the list above as a “what NOT to say to someone struggling with anxiety”.
I’m not going to get into how some of those phrases make someone like me feel. The purpose of this post is to give some options to those who don’t know what to say to someone who admits to you they’re anxious or struggling with anxiety (or other mental health struggles).
Here are some appropriate ways and things you can respond to someone struggling.
- Listen before you speak and DO NOT give advice.
I truly don’t think I’ve ever needed advice for anxiety my entire life from a family member or friend. I needed support, a listening ear, and real, professional help.
2. Say these specific words. “What do you need? If there is something I can do to help please let me know.”
We need to know and feel that the person/s we are talking to is going to be fully supportive and not judgmental or dismissive what so ever.
3. Offer them water, walk them outside, snacks, a place to sit, a hand to hold, or just your full attention.
Let them cry if they need to. Talk it out, let them get what ever crazy thing is on their mind out of their system. Let them know you are there for them, and that their feelings and emotions are valid.
4. “I’m sorry you’re going through this. I know that I don’t understand it but thank you for telling me.”
If you’re someone who hasn’t experienced a true panic attack or anxiety attacks on the regular (or any sort of anxiety) then this is not the time or place to be giving advice or really, encouragement: yes I said encouragement, stay with me. Which brings me to my next point.
5. There is no perfect thing to say to someone who is struggling. The key is to be supportive.
Truly there isn’t the perfect thing to say to someone struggling as everyone experiences it differently. The best thing you can do is allow them to experience what they are going through and to be supportive of what they need.
6. Check up on them after they told you they were struggling.
This makes us feel heard and seen. I have had multiple friends check up on me the day after I’ve been struggling and admit that to them. This is just about one of the best feelings ever.
7. Remind them of the things they have gone through while being anxious and the things they have accomplished.
This encouragement is more for the end of the conversation or maybe even the day after. This is where you can be a cheerleader for them, hype them up and remind them they are truly going to get through this, even though it’s really hard. Everyone deserves their own cheerleader!
8. If they are in the middle of an actual panic attack, here are some ways to help.
Help them to a place where they can sit down or lie down. If they are willing, grab their hand and hold tight, get them a cold glass of water and possible a crunchy snack. Breathe with them and remind them to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. The 4-7-8 is a great breathing technique after they’ve calmed down, but in the midst try to get them to do box breathing, breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds.
Use grounding techniques to bring them back to reality a little bit. Have them name things they can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste.
If you feel the situation is dire and they may need more medical attention then call someone for help (family member or 911). Sometimes panic attacks can be seen/felt as heart attacks or other signs that something a little more serious is going on.
As I pointed out in statement number five, there is no perfect thing to say to someone struggling. They key really is to listen and be truly supportive.
The person on the other end may open up more, feel better, or more seen because of the support they feel and trust me, it will really help them to their core. At least that’s how it has made me feel in the past.
And if you yourself are struggling with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or something heavy, it’s okay to open up and, even though it can be scary, it’s easier than you think.
I hope you enjoyed this post and maybe learned something from it. That’s always my my hope and prayer for the words I write.
Luke 6:31 NIV "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Thanks for reading,
~Erin, The Short Wife