How To Help Someone With Anxiety

Two people sitting on a couch and holding hands

It's perfectly normal to feel a bit anxious from time to time or to get that "butterflies in your stomach" sensation. Yet, some people struggle with severe, persistent anxiety on an ongoing basis, and this can negatively affect their wellness and quality of life. If you suspect that someone you know might have an anxiety disorder, you may be wondering how you can help them.

As a caring friend or family member, there are many steps you can take to support an individual struggling with excessive anxiety. First, we’ll take a look at how to recognize if someone has an anxiety disorder. Then, we’ll explore how to support someone with anxiety, including someone having a panic attack (also known as an anxiety attack).

In This Article:

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is characterized by feelings of fear and nervousness. A person might feel overwhelmed with dread as if something terrible was about to happen. Someone with anxiety might also catastrophize, which is to imagine the worst, even if that scenario is highly unlikely to occur.

While anyone might experience fleeting anxiety from time to time, someone with an anxiety disorder experiences persistent and severe symptoms that interfere with their daily life. They might experience significant anxiety even about everyday situations.

Multiple types of anxiety disorders exist, including the following:1

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Phobias, such as agoraphobia

Signs of Anxiety

Before you can figure out how to support someone with anxiety, you’ll need to know how to recognize it. Many of the symptoms of anxiety are only felt by the person experiencing it, such as a feeling of impending doom, restlessness, gastrointestinal problems and having trouble curbing excessive worrying. This can make it tricky for someone to identify when their loved one is experiencing anxiety unless the individual is open to discussing their feelings.

However, there are a few signs of anxiety you can watch out for, including the following:1

  • You notice that the person is breathing rapidly or hyperventilating.
  • The individual seems to be sweating, even if they haven’t been exercising and the temperature isn’t too hot.
  • Your loved one is visibly trembling or shaking; watch their hands to see if they shake.
  • Your friend or family member has trouble maintaining a conversation because they can’t focus well or react with obvious irritability.
  • The individual complains about having problems sleeping or about gastrointestinal issues with no apparent cause.

There are a few other indications of a possible anxiety disorder that you can watch out for. Reflect upon conversations that you’ve had with your loved one. Was your loved one’s conversation typically characterized by:2

  • Being convinced that the worst possible scenario would happen?
  • Making assumptions not grounded in evidence?
  • Making “all or nothing” statements?
  • Second-guessing themselves often?
  • Expressing a desire to avoid certain situations, places or events out of irrational fear?

These can be signs of an anxiety disorder.

Ways To Help Someone With Anxiety

There are many ways to help someone with anxiety, but before diving into what helps with anxiety, it’s important to know what not to do. First, it’s important not to take a confrontational approach with your loved one, such as by insisting that they talk to a therapist.2 Instead, offer to support them, such as by going to the first therapy session with them.

It's also important to avoid enabling your loved one. A person with anxiety may try to avoid certain situations, people or events. They need to practice working through those situations rather than avoiding them entirely, so offering to handle the task for your loved one won't be helpful in the long run.3

For instance, let’s say that your loved one has social anxiety and tries to avoid running errands. Instead of offering to do the grocery shopping for them, you could offer to accompany them to the store, preferably during the store’s less busy shopping hours.

Still wondering how to support someone with anxiety? Sometimes, helping that person find an outlet can be helpful. Consider the following ideas:

Ask Them How You Can Help

Although the ideal course of action is for your loved one to seek help from a psychologist, counselor or even their primary care doctor, not everyone is willing to seek professional care. To learn how to help someone with anxiety, it’s often a good idea to have an honest conversation with that person about your concerns for their well-being.

Before beginning the conversation, remind yourself that what helps with anxiety in your loved one is for their needs to be seen, heard and validated. Their fears might seem like no big deal to you, but it might seem like the end of the world to them. Avoid the temptation to use logic to point out that what they fear isn’t likely to come true and instead offer validating statements that display empathy and compassion, such as:2

  • “It seems like you’ve been having a really hard time coping lately.”
  •  “It must be so difficult to live with all of these worries.”
  •  “I might not fully understand what you’re going through, but I’m here for you and I’d like to support you in any way that I can. Would you like to talk about it?”

Ideally, you’ll be able to bring the conversation around to how you can best help your loved one cope.


Consider giving your loved one a journal to encourage them to record their thoughts and feelings. This may be particularly helpful for people who struggle with racing thoughts they have trouble controlling. In addition, journaling may help them if they decide to attend therapy sessions, as they can more readily identify common thought patterns and discuss them with their therapist.

Drawing or Painting

An artistic outlet can be a great way for people with anxiety to take their mind off their worries. Drawing or painting can be a particularly effective tool for young people with anxiety, as they can artistically depict what troubles them, which can open the door to conversations about those difficult subjects.

Physical Exercise

The body and mind are intricately linked, and caring for one’s physical health may also promote emotional well-being. Yet, for someone with anxiety, it can be tricky to get started with a workout plan. Consider inviting them to go out hiking with you or take a yoga class with you.

Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises can help calm down someone experiencing anxiety. Using a gentle voice, guide your friend through taking a long, slow breath in through the nose, followed by an even slower exhale through the mouth.


If your loved one enjoys baking, consider bringing over some recipes and asking them to bake with you. Baking may serve as a creative outlet sometimes, as well (i.e., cake decorating).

How To Help Someone With an Anxiety Attack

An anxiety attack, or panic attack, is a temporary yet highly intense period of heightened symptoms. The person may feel excessively fearful and complain of physical symptoms, such as:4

  • Chest pain
  • Problems breathing
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Chills, sweating and shaking

If your loved one is prone to these episodes, you should know how to help them. It’s important that you stay calm and speak to them in a steady, soothing voice. Due to symptoms like chest pain and a pounding heartbeat, your loved one may feel like they are having a heart attack. Reassure and remind them that the panic attack won’t last long.4

Let your loved one guide your response. For some people, it can be difficult to talk during a panic attack. If so, avoid trying to maintain a two-sided conversation. Other steps to take include:4

  • Help your friend feel grounded by holding their hand, asking them to stretch or asking them to focus on something, like their feet touching the floor.
  • Continue to reassure your friend.
  • Avoid saying things that might minimize your loved one’s issues. Instead, validate their concerns.
  • Walk them through deep breathing exercises — but only if they feel up to it.

If the symptoms do not begin to diminish after 20 minutes — especially if they worsen —then it's possible that your friend may need emergency medical attention. This is particularly true if the chest pain feels more like a squeezing sensation than a stabbing sensation and if they becomes nonresponsive. In any of these scenarios, it’s important to call 911 right away.4

Earn Your Psychology Degree at GCU

No two people are alike; everyone’s unique identity, thought processes and behaviors are in part a product of their background, childhood experiences, cultural norms and socioenvironmental factors.

If you have a passion for helping others with mental health issues, you may decide your calling lies in psychology. Apply today to enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program at Grand Canyon University and work through a curriculum that examines thought and behavioral patterns, as well as treatment methodologies. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about joining our private Christian learning community.

1 Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, May 4). Anxiety disorders. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 15, 2024.

2 McGuire, J., PhD. (n.d.). How to help someone with anxiety. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved March 15, 2024.

3 Boyes, A. (2018, July 25). Seven ways to help someone with anxiety. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved March 18, 2024. 

4 Raypole, C. (2020, Jan. 27). Helping someone through a panic attack. Healthline. Retrieved March 18, 2024. 

Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on April 12, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.