How To Communicate With Someone With Anxiety: Tools To Ease Anxiety In Interactions

Updated August 8, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

"Anxiety" is a term used to describe both a diagnosed disorder and a feeling. It can be applied to people from all backgrounds, nationalities, genders, and ages, as the condition can affect people from each of these demographics. Since anxiety is prevalent among all types of people, knowing how to interact with those struggling with it can be helpful regardless of the setting you’re in. In this article, we’ll be exploring different tips and tricks for interacting with someone who has anxiety whether it’s at work, in relationships, or in everyday conversations.

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What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety, as a broad term, is a state of fear or uncertainty. As a disorder, however, anxiety is characterized by persistent, unexplained bouts of anxiety, often accompanied by additional symptoms, such as sleep disturbance, irritability, panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, and gastric distress. While general anxiety is usually managed by limiting stress or keeping stressful situations to a minimum, an anxiety disorder has intense, unwarranted anxiety at its root, and usually cannot be managed by simply reducing stressful situations or stressors. Instead, anxiety disorders usually require some form of psychotherapy treatment, and may even require pharmaceutical intervention to alleviate symptoms.

There are five different disorders under the anxiety umbrella: Panic Disorder (PD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Each of these disorders is marked by persistent anxiety, but the root, triggers, and symptoms may all look different. If a friend, coworker, relative, or loved one has any of these disorders, they might be prone to panic attacks, isolation, and reactionary behavior.

What Does Anxiety Look Like, Day To Day?

The life of someone with anxiety depends on the type of anxiety they have and the severity of their condition. Across the board, however, people living with an anxiety disorder experience a high level of anxiety, typically without a distinct cause or catalyst. This means that something as seemingly inconsequential as driving to work can be a significant hurdle. This is perhaps one of the most important things to remember when interacting with someone with anxiety: managing the condition daily can be exhausting. People with anxiety may grow tired more easily and may be more emotionally spent or introspective than their typical peers.

Anxiety can also involve avoiding certain things or situations that prompt anxious thoughts and feelings. For someone with PTSD, this might mean avoiding the scene of a car accident, or the site of an assault. For someone with SAD, avoiding social situations might be commonplace. People with GAD may avoid anything that could cause anxiety, as people with PD often do. Those with OCD might engage in small (or large) rituals to mitigate some of their anxiety. Day-to-day anxiety can play a large role in behavior, communication, and thought processes. For most people with the condition, knowing how to manage their symptoms can be a daily struggle. 

Interacting With Someone Who Has Anxiety

When interacting with people who have anxiety, being mindful of their condition can be key. What might seem like a simple, normal phrase or experience to you can be triggering for someone with anxiety, and may cause fear, uncertainty, or overwhelm. Being mindful of the people around you and the possibility of anxiety can be an important part of functioning as an ally to individuals with mental health disorders, as many "normal" situations can be enormous sources of discomfort, fear, and uncertainty.

Being mindful of the possibility of anxiety does not mean being paralyzed in your actions or speech, and having to constantly walk on eggshells; instead, mindfulness means evaluating your speech for the presence of bias, stereotypes, and rude language. The term "OCD," for instance, has come to mean any sort of neurotic or phobic behavior, but is an actual diagnosis. Using it to describe someone's personality traits is insensitive to people with OCD and can be triggering or shaming for some. 

Mindfulness also includes considering what someone with anxiety might need. Although it is certainly not your place to act as a therapist, liaison, or caretaker for someone with anxiety, you can take steps to make sure that you include someone with anxiety in social outings, conversations, and meetings, provided that you also let them know it is not required, and that you understand if they must say "no."


Easing Anxiety In Conversation

It can be crucial to avoid putting someone with anxiety on the spot. Although speaking one-on-one is often acceptable, many people with anxiety are uncomfortable being at the center of attention and may struggle to have the limelight focused on them in big groups. If you are in an office setting, avoid calling an employee out in the middle of a large meeting. If you are with a group of friends, try not to direct everyone's attention to the person in question. 

Anticipation can also be a source of anxiety for people. Instead of the dreaded, "We need to talk," or "Can I talk to you?" try to opt for direct communication and do not bring up a topic unless you can discuss it at that time. The anticipation of a serious conversation looming over someone with anxiety can cause a dramatic spike in their symptoms or could even lead to a panic attack.

Easing Anxiety In The Workplace

Letting people know exactly what you expect of them can be one of the most effective ways to ease anxiety in the workplace. Uncertainty can be challenging for people with anxiety, so having any sort of ambiguity about their role or your expectations of them can be difficult. Charts, lists, and diagrams can all help ease the mind of someone with an anxiety disorder and can alleviate some of the responsibility of constantly having to go over expectations, rules, or guidelines.

Sensitivity training can also be helpful in a work situation, as it can provide a blanket session regarding how to cope with a myriad of issues, including mental health. Since many people are not familiar with the different types of mental health issues and disorders, they might use triggering or inappropriate language without realizing it. Sensitivity training can help bring awareness to the different ways you can be considerate and mindful toward people who have mental health conditions.

Using Boundaries To Navigate Anxiety

People who have anxiety might struggle to set boundaries for themselves or adhere to others' boundaries, whether they are real or perceived. It can be essential, however, to set boundaries when you have a friend, loved one, or partner with anxiety, as boundaries can help you maintain a healthy distance and show others how you’d like to be treated. Boundaries need not be extreme or cruel; rather, those that are healthy are typically careful and firm in their scope.

An important boundary in a partnership or relationship, for instance, could be setting aside time and space for a therapist or some form of therapeutic intervention. Taking on someone else's burdens, fears, and anxiety can be overwhelming and could take a toll on your health. To prevent this, consider having a rule in place that at any time, one or both of you is allowed to say, "This is too much," and the conversation must come to a close. Either of you can then take your concerns to a therapist or other trusted professional.

In the workplace, a boundary might be setting aside time to stand up, walk around, or engage in some other form of movement if a panic attack or the onset of anxiety arrives, rather than allowing it to control work performance. This allows the employee in question some space to process their emotions while keeping strict boundaries in place during work hours.

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Easing Anxiety In Relationships

Whether your relationship with someone with anxiety is a friendship, a familial tie, or a romantic relationship, there are steps you can take to support your loved one. First and foremost, offer your support. Support can easily veer off into the realm of enabling, but ideally, support means letting your loved one know that you are there if they need you, that you love them unconditionally, and that you accept them for who they are. While this might be a given in many relationships, people with anxiety often feel unlovable or unacceptable because of their condition and fear that those around them are annoyed, angry, or exhausted by their needs. Support can also mean encouraging a loved one to seek help via therapy, offering to attend therapy sessions together, or helping complete therapy homework.

Calm communication can also be important in a relationship with someone who has anxiety. Direct conversations allow the two of you to stay on the same level, while calm communication helps keep misunderstandings, fear, and confusion to a minimum. During altercations, tempers can get heated, but keeping calm can help ensure you that neither of you says something you’ll later regret. It can also contribute to a stronger relationship and help each of you feel less alone. 

Online Counseling With Regain

Whether you have anxiety yourself or want to learn more about supporting someone through it, connecting with a professional could be a beneficial next step. You can chat with a local therapist or connect with one through Regain, a virtual counseling platform. Regain offers individual and couples counseling according to your needs. If you’d like to learn how to support a loved one with their anxiety, it could be helpful to attend counseling alongside them. Otherwise, you can choose to participate alone. Online counseling offers other customizable options like when you meet, where you meet, and how you get connected. You can use a phone or computer to talk to your therapist and chat from anywhere you have an internet connection at any time that’s convenient for you. This can make it easier and more convenient to get the support you need, regardless of the concerns you’re facing.

The Effectiveness Of Online Counseling 

According to research, generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, can be effectively treated through online therapy interventions. In one study, researchers found that participants living with GAD who completed the entire 8-week cognitive behavioral therapy program experienced reductions in anxiety and depression and an increase in quality of life. These outcomes were significant compared to the control group, which consisted of those on a waitlist. At a one and three-year follow-up, these outcomes were maintained, illustrating the long-term efficacy of online counseling for mental health concerns like GAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy that encourages people to identify their unhelpful thoughts that could be contributing to their negative cognitive symptoms. They then learn how to change these thoughts to become more helpful and positive, which allows them to adjust their behavior accordingly.

The Takeaway

No matter the type of relationship you have with someone with anxiety, coping with an anxiety disorder can be difficult at times, and can initially seem overwhelming. With practice, education, and patience, however, you can learn more about anxiety, how it affects people, and how you can effectively show up for anyone living with an anxiety disorder. If you need help during this process or would like more tips and tricks to be successful in offering your support, counseling could be helpful. You can connect with a therapist who understands anxiety disorders and gain valuable insight through the therapeutic process. With time, you can learn how to be there for those with anxiety and create more positive, meaningful interactions with those in your life. 

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