Generalised anxiety rarely rests. For the anxious person it can be physically and mentally draining and seem like an endless cycle of fear and dread.

They would probably give their right arm to switch off their anxiety and start feeling calm again, yet their mind continues to race with worrying thoughts and their body continues to stay in a state of high alert. 

And even if someone does get moments of relief, or only gets anxious around specific situations, in those moments it can be hard to stand by and watch someone you care about facing their internal battle alone.

You want to help, yet what can you actually do that will help someone with anxiety?

How To Help With Anxiety

If you want to help someone who is struggling with anxiety then here are some things that will help:

1. Remember What Anxiety Actually Is

The first thing I suggest is to remember what anxiety actually is.  In those moments, every part of that person's mind and body is screaming inside that they are in danger and need to take action to keep themselves safe. Their mind may be racing on high alert, they can't think straight, their body is getting ready to take action and they probably just want to get the heck out of that situation as quickly as possible.

Remember they are not choosing to experience their anxiety, it's just that their internal safety system is over protecting them and firing off when it doesn't need to. 

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2. Ask Them What Will Help

You may be reluctant to ask them what would help in case you somehow make matters worse. Sure their are certain things you probably don't want to say but asking them how you can help is a good starting point - do they want you to remind them to breathe, would reminding them how they have dealt with this successfully before help them? Are there relaxing things you could do together? Are there other things that they think could help during those moments? 

3.  Have a Code Word

A lot of anxious people find it useful to have a 'code word' so that if their anxiety gets too much while they are with you they can use that word or term to highlight how they are feeling (without having to explicitly talk about feeling anxious, especially in front of others). You want to support someone with anxiety to do as much as possible (step by step) - avoiding things completely only makes the fear worse - yet they can feel safe knowing that they have this fail safe should they need it. 

4. Remind them to Breathe

If you feel anxious then it's likely that your breathing will become shallower and quicker. Your body tries to get more oxygen inside so you are ready to take action to get away. This change in breathing is the signal for all the other physical sensations to kick in such as your heart beating faster and getting hotter and so forth. 

One of the most effective ways to take back control is to change your breathing - specifically you want to make sure your out breath is longer than your in breath, which triggers the relaxation response. Breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11 a few times and everything starts to calm down.

If someone is anxious all thoughts of what to do may get lost in the overwhelming sensations of fear and worry so remind them to breathe in this way (counting for them may help as well as doing it yourself alongside them). And encourage them to practice breathing in this way at other times, even if they already feel ok, so that it becomes more and more second nature.   

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5. Encourage Them To Count 

One of the most effective ways to start calming anxiety is by getting the thinking part of your brain to do something. When we feel anxious or panicky, the thinking part of our brain essentially gets cut off for a while because the overriding focus is on taking action to keep ourselves safe. That's why in the midst of anxiety, you can't think straight or logically - it's only later when you might think 'what was that all about?!'.

Encourage them to practice counting backwards from 300 in units of 3 whenever they start to feel anxious and the thinking part of their brain will keep firing and the emotions will be lowered.

6. Do Fun Stuff Together

The worse anxiety gets, the less someone may do. The focus of life becomes more and more around anxiety and what if I feel anxious and other thoughts filled with worry and dread. It can start to feel like a blanket of anxiety has been laid over their whole life.

So if there are things that they enjoy doing, where they can forget that other stuff for a while then encourage them to keep doing those things. Whether it's going to the gym, walking in nature or something else, doing those things will give their mind time off from all that worry and allow them to relax more and smile more again.

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Help To Overcome Anxiety

Trying to help someone with anxiety can feel draining because you never know exactly what is going on inside the other person, so always make sure you take care of your own emotional needs too. Use the tips above to help someone you love who has anxiety to make progress, safely push forwards and start living their life with more calmness and confidence (and if you are worried about making things worse then read this article on what not to say to someone with anxiety).

And if you know someone with anxiety who could use a helping hand then why not suggest they come and meet me for a free initial consultation (and you can come along too if they would find that more comfortable).

Dan Regan

Anxiety Hypnotherapy in Ely And Newmarket

www.danreganhypnotherapy.co.uk/issues/anxiety