Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Someone With Anxiety


– Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. However, people with anxiety disorders experience excessive and persistent worry about any number of things. Often times, it interferes with their ability to function at work, school and socially. In order to best help someone with an anxiety disorder, is important to understand their experience. Use the steps below as your roadmap to being the best support you can be.

Understanding anxiety

There are variety of anxiety disorders. Each one is unique and presents differently. Start by familiarizing yourself with the specific type of anxiety your friend or loved one is coping with.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder experience excessive worrying about multiple different things, more days than not, to the point that it may interfere with their physical and mental health.

Individuals with GAD may:

    • experience physiological sensations such as stomach distress, muscle tension, fatigue, heart palpitations, irritability
    • experience sleep difficulties (falling asleep, waking up frequently) secondary to the physical sensations brought on by worry.
    • worry about topics that are concerns shared by most people but have difficulty turning off a worry and often spiral to imagining the worst-case scenario.
    • have trouble trying new experiences (travel; recreational/social activities) as they have difficulty tolerating the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what to expect and/or how to “control” the situation.


Social Anxiety Disorder

Individuals with social phobia are excessively concerned with the negative judgment of others. While they remain interested in social connections, they tend to avoid social interactions to reduce their distress and discomfort. The vast majority of adults with social phobia report having experienced this worry for as long as they could remember, and typically describe having been shy and quiet during their school years.

Individuals with social anxiety disorder may:

    • experience physical sensations accompanying anxiety such as stomach upset, difficulty concentrating, shaking, voice trembling, and blushing
    • find it difficult to initiate conversations, express opinions/be assertive, speak in groups, make eye contact, tell jokes, and take risks, particularly in dating situations.
    • become isolated and depressed
    • overextend themselves socially in order to please everyone. These people appear socially comfortable and connected, but express very little social enjoyment due to their constant need for approval by others.


Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia

A panic attack is defined as the emergence of four or more physiological sensations (e.g., racing heart, dizziness, light-headedness, stomach distress, trembling, feelings of derealization) peaking in intensity within 10 minutes.  Panic attacks are common in all anxiety disorders and in the general public. However, those who suffer from panic disorder have persistent fear of having a panic attack in a situation in which they cannot escape or get help.

People who experience panic disorder may:

    • fear a catastrophic outcome from panic attacks; for example, I am going to lose control of myself, I am going to die, I am going to go crazy, and/or I am going to embarrass myself.
    • avoid situations that might elicit a panic attack (called Agoraphobia).


Acknowledge the Anxiety

May people with anxiety disorders may be too anxious to ask for help or support. Or they may not even fully realize the extent to which their anxiety is impacting them.

In this case, try saying something like:

  • “How are things going?”
  • “It seems like there is something on your mind. Do you want to talk about it?”
  • “I don’t think worries are silly. I’m not going to judge you if you tell me.”


What to say: the Dos and Don’ts

After letting your friend or loved one know that you are ready to listen with a non-judgmental ear, be mindful of what type of further support is helpful and unhelpful.


  • Listen without interrupting
  • Validate their feelings
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help


  • Interrupt to offer generic advice, or turn the conversation back to a similar experience you had
  • Provide too much reassurance. It is better to help the anxious person acknowledge the possibility that things might not turn out in their favor, rather than reinforce the notion that the possibility is too scary to think about.
  • Minimize their experience by being dismissive



Seeking Mental Health Support

If you believe you or a loved one could benefit from understanding more about their anxiety, consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Our therapists can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs. Meet our team to learn more!

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