If you have never suffered from excessive anxiety, then it may be difficult to empathize with someone who has. Anxious people may seem to be worried about nothing of substance, so it\’s tempting to disregard the problem. But the fact is, anxiety—including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder—is one of the most common disorders. About 40 million American adults are affected per year.

How do you deal with someone who seems anxious all the time?

First, recognize that anxiety disorder can be successfully treated, and those who suffer should be diagnosed by a professional. The causes may be quite varied and complex, and probably stem from a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental factors. Many times people with anxiety disorder are reticent to discuss their feelings and tend to internalize. But this condition isn\’t something that should be disregarded. Affected people should get help.

Second, understand that anxious people can\’t just ‘fix\’ the problem by avoiding whatever is causing their fear. Avoidance is like pretending the condition doesn\’t exist—like sticking one\’s head in the sand. And the longer a person avoids it, the worse it becomes. But when the anxious person faces the fear head-on and deals matter-of-factly with stress, the more able he\’ll be to finally achieve mastery over it.

Third, recognize that anxiety isn\’t necessarily the result of a particular fear or trauma. Certain phobias—like fear of enclosed spaces or great heights—can be the foundation of anxiety, but there\’s probably also a genetic component. Chronic anxiety encompasses more than one fear, and can be overwhelming. It\’s even possible to be anxious about having anxiety.

Finally, know that you can be helpful. The best thing to do is take your cue from the anxious person herself. Ask her how you can be helpful, but don\’t try to bully her into being calm. Phrases like, “Don\’t cry over spilled milk,” or “Calm down,” or “Suck it up,” are not helpful. And don\’t trivialize the situation either, by saying something like “Don\’t sweat the small stuff.”

Try to relate to the anxious person. We\’ve all been in circumstances that caused us anxiety. We didn\’t study enough for the big trigonometry exam. We have to give a speech to our peers. You get the idea. Sometimes you\’re anxious for good reason. Now try to imagine when that worried state takes over without hope of controlling it. It will make you more empathetic. Use that empathy to be helpful to the anxious person in need.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: https://nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.