“When you’re anxious and you need encouragement not direction.” 

This was the realization of one of Holly’s clients, whom we’ll call Linda, one day while retelling a story of a panic attack. She shared how her boyfriend had been supportive, recognizing her distress. “I know what to do: I need to calm down, I need to breathe…. What I need him to do is witness and walk through it with me.” 

So, how do we become witnesses for those around us in the midst of anxiety, fear, or simply a bad day? All you have to do is listen and tell them why it makes sense. Try adding these to your routine vocabulary: 

  • That sounds hard.
  • It makes sense you would feel that way.
  • I hear what you’re saying.
  • That was a tough position, you were in a tough place.
  • There sure is a lot of emotion connected to this.
  • This is complicated.
  • No wonder you feel this way. 
  • I’m listening.
Perhaps a friend or loved one is experiencing something irrational, but rationality doesn’t need to take the lead in your attempts to be supportive. Begin by simply validating and acknowledging the emotion they’re experiencing. You don’t have to agree to show empathy. 


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