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Do you ever get the feeling that someone you are spending time with is feeling anxious? You might be unsure of how you can possibly help them to feel better in that moment. Especially if you don’t want to let on about your suspicions that they are feeling anxious, for fear of making them feel worse.
I experience anxiety myself, and there are some things people do that make me feel worse, but other things that make me feel better. I’m pretty sure that other people are usually unaware that I’m feeling anxious, and they just happened to do these things. I wanted to put together this post to share some of these things that help me. These are all things that you can do naturally and subtly in everyday situations at home, at work, or out and about without it being obvious why you are doing them.
This post is all based on my personal experience. These things help me but I don’t speak for every anxious person and I am certainly no expert. Not all of these will work for everyone, and it will of course depend on the magnitude of the anxiety too. However, I hope this will be a good starting point to guide you in what you can do to help someone feel better if you suspect they are feeling anxious.
How do you know if someone is feeling anxious?
You won’t always know! Sometimes they might tell you outright that they are feeling anxious. Other times, it might be obvious from physical signs such as shaking. Talking from personal experience, people will generally try to hide the fact that they are feeling anxious – I certainly do. The milder it is, the easier it is to hide. Therefore, it may be that you will have no idea someone is feeling anxious.
If you know the person well then you might be aware that they sometimes experience anxiety, and of what kinds of situations trigger their anxiety. Therefore you might suspect it based on the situation you are in, and any triggers that are present. You might also be able to sense that they are not feeling great. Even if they are hiding it well, there may be subtle signs or they may be acting slightly different to normal.
If you have any inkling that someone might be feeling anxious, it does no harm at all to do any of the suggestions in this blog post. What all these things have in common is that they are just generally good things to do to make people feel at ease. They are good for anxiety prevention as well as relief. If nothing else, take this as a list of good social tips to help people feel relaxed!
How To Help Someone With Anxiety – 9 Subtle Things You Can Do
1. Offer them food
If I’m feeling anxious, something as simple as being offered a biscuit can really help. I find eating very comforting and it distracts me from how I am feeling. It gets me focusing on my senses in the present rather than my anxious thoughts and feelings. The physical process of eating also helps to drown out or override many of the physical sensations that anxiety brings. Some people lose their appetites when feeling anxious so this tip may not help everyone, but there’s no harm in offering.
2. Offer them a drink
This is very similar to the point above, and in many situations, a drink can be more practical than food. There are also some drinks that are known to have anxiety-relieving properties including certain herbal teas like chamomile or valerian. In some contexts, alcohol may be appropriate and helpful. When offering to make or buy someone a drink, perhaps throw in a mention of some relaxing drinks among the options that are available so they can easily choose one if they feel it would help them. You could have the same drink too which may help them feel more connected and at ease.
3. Give them a task to do
Inviting someone to do a simple task can help distract them from feeling anxious. For example, if you are in a work meeting, ask if they can file some papers, take notes, top up the refreshments or do some other relevant but low-stress task. This could help ease them into feeling more physically connected with the present moment, and engaged in the proceedings rather than getting lost in anxious thoughts.
4. Show them a picture or video on your phone
Do you have any cool photos or videos that you’ve taken recently? Maybe pictures of your pet, a recent trip you’ve been on, or a funny video. You could show them to the anxious person and tell them the story behind them. This could provide a welcome distraction and it also gives them something physical but non-threatening to focus on. Looking at something on a phone can provide a kind of barrier as all eyes are on the phone rather than on each other.
5. Tell a funny story
Laughter is a great remedy for anxiety. It’s hard to feel anxious and be genuinely laughing at the same time! Therefore, if something funny has happened to you, take an opportunity to share the story. You can share it directly with the person you suspect is feeling anxious, or even better, tell it to the whole group. Getting a whole room of people laughing will create a jolly, relaxed and comfortable atmosphere which will benefit everyone, especially those who were feeling anxious.
6. Show a vulnerability
If it is appropriate and only if you feel comfortable doing this, consider sharing something personal that is going on with you at the moment. Particularly, show a vulnerability. For example, if you yourself have been going through a tough time with physical or mental health or a difficult situation in your life, talk about it.
This will remind the anxious person that as humans we all go through difficult things and we all have our issues. This can help them to feel less alone and more connected, and to remember that it’s okay to not be okay. From personal experience, just remembering this can really help the anxiety to fade away. As well as helping the anxious person, sharing your vulnerabilities will probably make you feel a little better too!
7. Give them some alone time
This point is particularly relevant in a one-to-one setting. If you suspect the person you’re with is feeling anxious, overwhelmed or overstimulated by social interaction, it may be that they would really appreciate a moment to be left alone.
It would not usually be socially acceptable or helpful to just walk away or stop talking to them! So instead, find a natural reason to give them some alone time. Excuse yourself for a bathroom visit, to make drinks or say you need to make a phone call. This doesn’t have to be a lie – go and phone a close friend or partner for a quick, casual chat. It will be a legitimate and worthwhile phone call because it will give the person you’re with a bit of breathing space.
8. Change the conversation topic
People are more likely to feel anxious and isolated if everyone else is talking about a topic that they have no interest in or knowledge about, or worse, a topic that is triggering for them. If the situation allows, and if you know the anxious person well enough, move the conversation onto a topic that you know they are passionate about.
We all have certain topics we can talk about for hours, even those of us that are generally quiet in social situations. I often find I can instantly snap out of an anxious episode if a subject area lights me up and gets me talking. It makes me forget how I was feeling and engage with the moment, keen to share my knowledge and thoughts with those around me.
9. Suggest an activity
In social situations, I’m more likely to feel anxious when we are just talking. If we are engaged in an activity such as playing a game, watching a film or trying a sport, I’m far more likely to feel relaxed and in the flow. It also distracts me from feeling anxious. If you are in a social meetup where people are just chatting and you suspect someone is feeling anxious, try suggesting an activity rather than continuing to chat.
I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to help someone with anxiety
These are all simple and subtle things to do, but they could make a big difference in helping someone to feel less anxious. Do these more often, and you can be the person who makes others feel more at ease in social situations.
I’d be curious to hear from anyone reading this who experiences anxiety. Do you agree with my list? Would these things help you too, or would any of them make you feel worse? What things do people do that help you when you are feeling anxious? Let me know in the comments below.