Helping a friend, peer, or partner deal with anxiety can be confusing and difficult at times. It is often hard to know what to say. However, regardless of how you choose to comfort the person, there are some key things to not say.
1. "You shouldn't feel that way."
In particular, this phrase is one to avoid. Chances are, the person having the anxiety does not want to worry about whatever it is that's bothering them. They know that they should not feel a certain way, but feel as though they have no control over their anxious thoughts. To them, their feelings are real and there, whether they should be or not. Telling them something they already know, but have no control over often makes them feel worse.
2. "Just think 'good thoughts' or 'focus on something else.'"
This goes along with the lack of control that people with anxiety feel. Personally, I have often tried to focus on things I need to get done and find it almost impossible until the source of my anxiety is resolved. This is a situation that most people with anxiety have in common and it is very frustrating.
3. "I understand how you feel."
Often, this is said to try to show empathy, but the reality is, it can be insulting. At that moment, the only person who can really understand how their anxiety feels, is them. Telling someone you understand the stress, frustration and helplessness that they are going through can be seen as downplaying the severity of their feelings.
4. "You don't have anxiety, you're feeling anxious."
Feeling anxious is temporary and often pertains to specific situations. Anxiety is a constant worry and need for reassurance that can become acute as a result of certain situations. If a person is going out of their way to get help, it is probably more than just the typical anxiety. Again, downplaying the severity of their feelings may make them feel degraded and less likely to seek help.
5. Nothing at all
One of the worst things to do is to avoid the awkwardness you may feel and dismiss the person's feelings with an "Oh." or "I'm sorry". This type of reaction can create feelings of loneliness and the perception that others do not care enough to help. A simple "I am here for you" or "How are you feeling today?' will do if you do not know what to say.
When helping others cope with anxiety or depression, what often helps is simply listening and expressing to the person that they have your support. What is even better is helping them talk through the source of their anxiety/depression and what they can do to treat it. It can be difficult at times, but a good rule of thumb is to remember that what that person is feeling is very real to them, whether it seems valid or logical to you or not.