The last thing that will calm down an anxious person is telling them “calm down.” In fact, it may make the situation worse. Some research suggests that trying to calm oneself during the middle of an anxiety attack can actually increase the original emotional response in the moment. As a result, by trying not to be afraid, the sufferer may experience a more intensified reaction to what’s making them fearful.
Instead of encouraging someone with anxiety to calm down, offer support that shows understanding. “It’s a bad strategy to tell someone to ‘calm down’ — mostly because it doesn’t give anyone a sense of how can they do that,” he explains. “If they could calm down, they would — it’s an overly simplistic view of emotion. A better strategy would be asking questions like ‘What’s making you feel this way?’ By voicing it and thinking about it, generally speaking, they can deal with it in a better capacity.”