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“Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down!” How to Help Someone Who is Angry, Anxious, or Stressed

“Calm down.” “Just relax.” “Don’t worry about it.” “Stop stressing out.” “It will be fine.” “Don’t get so upset.” We have all probably been told these phrases, or something similar, by another person when we were angry, anxious, or stressed. We may even ourselves be guilty of saying them to another person. But did it help? Most likely not at all, and more likely it just made us, or the other person, angrier, more anxious, or even more stressed. When our emotions are at a very high level or seemingly out of our control, being told something that seems obvious or “simple” can appear like a brush off, uncaring or uninterested, or that we were misunderstood. So what should you say or do when someone is angry, anxious, or stressed out?

For each situation, the most important first step is to actively listen. Most people aren’t really fully listening since they are thinking about how to respond or are only listening with the intent to solve a problem. When we don’t actively listen to the other person, we don’t really “hear” them and understand what they are trying to tell us. There is no way you are going to be able to help someone or understand them if you aren’t fully listening to what they are saying and trying to express. Try to give the other person your undivided attention and do not think about how you are going to respond or what the “best” thing to say would be. Just be fully present in the conversation. Additionally, there are also specific techniques or tips to help someone with each of the aforementioned emotions.

Anger: When someone is angry, it is important to remain calm and try not to become defensive. If we also become angry and defensive or respond in the like, it will only escalate the situation and the other person’s anger. Try to keep quiet and neutral and let them vent if needed until they are in a better emotional state to be able talk about the situation in a more rational manner. Try to validate their anger and the situation, apologize if you were in the wrong, and show empathy or understanding for their feelings. If the person is unable to control their anger or decrease it, the best option may be to give them space and time or to just walk away.

Anxiety: Although you may not be able to fully understand or relate to someone with significant anxiety, or possibly panic attacks, there are still ways to connect to the person in order to provide support and help since we have all experienced anxiety, or even fear, to some extent during our lives. Most importantly, do not judge the person for their anxiety. It may seem irrational or out of proportion to you, but to them it is not. Be willing to listen to them without judgment, offer support, ask what the experience is like for them, and validate and show understanding for their emotions. However, be careful to not “join” the anxiety or fear by enabling or becoming an accomplice to the situation. Remain calm yourself and do not feed into the idea that there is more to be anxious or afraid of. Phrases such as “that must be really hard for you” or “I understand why that would make you anxious” can be very validating and show understanding and support. Overall, just be available to the person however they may need you.

Stress: When someone is overwhelmed or stressed out, it is usually our initial reaction to want to try to help them solve the problem or take care of it in some way. Again, listen to their feelings, validate their emotions and experience, and offer support. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help the situation or decrease their stress. They may already know what they need to do, they just needed someone to listen and possibly help.

Overall, the most important take away to help someone who is angry, anxious, or stressed is just to be there for them. You may not even need to say anything. Just being there shows your understanding, support, and willingness to help, which in and of itself can be quite soothing and helpful.

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