What NOT To Say To Someone With Anxiety

Written By

Fiona Lam

Certified neuro-emotional technique (NET) practitioner and naturopath

I, like many others, have anticipated the mental health crisis that would follow as a result of the pandemic and I must admit, witnessing the volume and severity of it as a healthcare professional has been seriously confronting. Many mental health workers I know of are no longer taking new patients in an attempt to catch up with the demand.

According to Beyond Blue,1 in 7 Australians is currently experiencing an anxiety condition.

If you’ve spent some time with me, you’d know that I have a passion for empowering people to make the most out of life, especially if anxiety is something that’s holding them back and with professional help being inundated, I feel inclined to remind everyone that we can all do our part to support one another in everyday life.

Perhaps you know someone suffering from anxiety and hadn’t known how to approach them or were worried about saying the wrong thing.

Even people with the best intentions can say something that would unknowingly make the situation worse for someone feeling anxious – here’s what to avoid saying:


“Just relax.”

The solution can seem simple from the outside and almost confusing as to why they’re not doing all the things to relax. It may be helpful to acknowledge that the state of being unable to relax is a symptom of anxiety disorder. Therefore, telling someone with an anxiety disorder to “just relax” is kind of like telling someone not to pull their hand away when they touch a hot plate.

What to say instead: “Right here, right now, nothing can hurt you,” or “I’m here, I’ll stay with you while you try to relax.”


“Stop worrying about it.”

If only it was that simple. This response implies that the person suffering from anxiety is choosing to feel anxious at that moment. Anxiety doesn’t let you choose what kind of emotions bubble up, the only choice the person has is how to process what is surfacing. Telling them to “stop worrying” only invalidates their feelings.

What to say instead: “It’s okay to feel worried. Is there anything we can do that will help you feel better right now?” or “Take as long as you need to work through this.”


“A lot of people have it worse.”

This saying is true and it can certainly bring some perspective to any situation. This outlook can even spark a healthy dose of gratitude, but saying it when someone is emotionally distressed is disregarding their issue as if their problems don’t matter and it can even make them feel ashamed for bringing it up. It’s likely to deter them from opening up to you again.

What to say instead: “I’m listening.” or “Tell me about what’s going through your mind.”


“I’m stressed out, too.”

Some people use this response to relate to someone with anxiety but all it does is diminish their feelings. It also takes the focus from them at a time they’re in need and instead of standing with them on the matter, it becomes about whose “stress” is more important.

What to say instead: “I can see how hard this is for you.” or “I understand that the issue feels overwhelming right now.”


“Why don’t you just do (insert solution)?”

A natural reflex is to fix the problem whenever we see someone being anxious. Keep in mind that anxiety disorder involves a physiological response disproportionate to the trigger, (which can often be completely irrational), so offering a logical solution can be redundant and it also doesn’t allow the person the space to diffuse their emotions.

What to say instead: “Where are you finding yourself stuck?” or “Do you want some help with finding a solution?”

Meet people where they are, not where you think they should be

Knowing the right things to say – and more importantly, what not to say – can make a BIG difference to the person who is feeling anxious. They’re most likely already judging themselves so their anxiety gets worse the moment they feel blamed or dismissed for their feelings.

The best thing to do is to lead with empathy and start by really listening to their story without adding or trying to fix it. If in doubt, ask them how you can help them.

You’ll find that people will progress much further when you just meet them where they are by making them feel heard and understood rather than pushing them to be where you want them to be.

If you can remember this key concept for how you treat yourself and others, I can guarantee that you will experience more flow of love and ease in your life.

If you’d like more guidance on how to support a loved one with anxiety or if you’re going through it yourself, check out our signature online course to feel calmer and more confident in 7 weeks.


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