This article is about what to say to children who are experiencing anxiety, as their caregiver. But I think it equally applies to adults with anxiety, too.
One of the most important things to me, as an anxious person, is to know that my loved ones will stay with me when I’m experiencing anxiety. SleepyGene said the other day that there was nothing I could say or do that would make him suddenly change his mind and leave me. And hearing those words meant so much. He didn’t have to say anything else (let alone “fix” anything); I just needed to know that he would walk through the anxiety with me.
Holding compassionate space for someone who is experiencing anxiety, not trying to fix them or tell them to “calm down” but just acknowledging their feelings and giving them permission to feel them, is invaluable. These suggestions of things to say really hit the nail on the head for me:
‘You’re safe. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.’
You might not be believed straight away, but that’s okay. This isn’t about changing anything. It’s about offering warmth, safety and comfort the best way you can.
‘Whatever you do now will be absolutely fine with me.’
Part of the stress of anxiety can be not knowing what to do, or being worried that whatever they’re doing might not be okay. Validating their response will empower them to move through the feeling in their own way, and at their own pace.
‘Do whatever you need to do. Even if it’s nothing.’
This is permission for them to respond how they want to respond, without feeling silly or as though they need to explain or ‘fight’ their response. The [paradox] is that the less people feel the need to fight the feeling, the more likely it is that the feeling can come and then go.