Your best friend tells you how anxious she is. The natural response to this is to try and cheer her up. You tell her to calm down or get a grip on things. You tell her things could be worse. Your intentions are good. You want to be a good friend and cheer her on.

But does this really work?

Actually, this strategy can make things worse. Your friend might be brave and tell you that your response feels a little controlling! What? You thought you were being supportive. But people don’t respond well to someone minimizing their anxiety. In fact, they often feel like they are being coerced to feel better.

Anxious people don’t want to be told their feelings are normal either. At the moment of anxiety, nothing feels normal. An anxious person also doesn’t want to be told to just stop worrying so much. Something is triggering the anxious feeling, but they don’t usually know what that is or they would stop it.

Another bad verbal response to anxiety is telling the person that they are being ridiculous right now. Ouch! Or how about, think positive! Well at the moment, the positive thinking has been overtaken by anxious thoughts. Again, if that was all a person had to do, they would do it.

So what should you do? Start with dropping the cheerleading and just listen. Then be empathetic and present. And if you want to go further, ask if there is anything you can do. Most often, people just want a listening ear as they usually know what they have to do. If you want to say something, say, “I don’t really understand but what how can I help?” Finally, allow the person time to work through their feeling.

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