1. Don’t say “Just relax”
Variations of this crowd favourite include “Just calm down” and “Just breathe.” Well, if I could, wouldn’t I have already done that?
The problem is that when people are anxious, it’s very hard to relax. They’re experiencing activation of their sympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight response. This is a very real and very urgent biological process that instantaneously raises their heart rate and adrenaline levels, tenses their muscles, and puts their senses on high alert.
Telling someone to just cool it is nearly impossible for them. You’re also dismissing them. The phrase can feel condescending and—especially if it’s the first thing you say—it shows that you are not interested in understanding their experience.
Instead of saying “just relax,” try calmly asking an open-ended question like, “What’s on your mind?” Asking questions shows that you care. It also helps to introduce some problem-solving structure and gives your friend a chance to slow down and walk through the facts.