Everyone wants to be helpful when their spouse or kid or good friend is having an episode of anxiety.  It’s a tough spot to be in, because we have all experienced a case of nerves, and we intuitively know that sometimes it can be hard to calm down.

So we try to help, but most often we end up in a pendulum swing from HARSH to HUG and back again.  In this post, I’ll define the HARSH and the HUG, to show the patterns we can get into when we respond to someone who’s anxious.  Let’s get started:

HARSH:  ”You’re crazy, what’s wrong with you, stop being so ridiculous!”

HUG:  ”Don’t worry, honey, everything will be fine, there’s no need to be upset!”

Each of these is a natural reaction, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.


Both come from an empathic place;  wanting to help someone in distress.

Both have elements of truth;  the harsh points out the distorted thinking, and the hug acknowledges a need for comfort and reassurance.

Both are things the anxious person knows, believes, intends, or can relate to – so both are validating in some ways.

Both attempt to solve the problem by engaging with it, which is a generous approach.


Both imply that the anxious person can straighten him or herself out, which may not be so easy at that at that particular moment.

Too much reassurance (the HUG) keeps you close but implies that they indeed can’t cope on their own.

Judging or berating them (the HARSH) implies they should have no trouble coping, but leaves them feeling stranded and alone.

Each can leave you feeling you haven’t been helpful, so you swing over to the other side!

BOTTOM LINE:  Neither one solves the problem, and the swinging back and forth is no fun for the anxious person or for the helper.

NEXT STEP:  How to find that sweet spot, the center of the pendulum’s path.

EXTRA CREDIT:  If you realized that these principles are just as applicable when dealing with your own bouts of anxiety, then you get extra points!  That is, you may find that you do a pendulum swing yourself, at times seeking reassurance, and at other times yelling at yourself to be reasonable.  So whether it’s to help your loved one or yourself, click through to the next post to learn how to get centered.