Noticing an uptick in anxious texts from your found and blood family members? When your sibling or cousin is in crisis, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to help them out. Figuring out
how to respond when someone you love is freaking out might look like creating an arsenal of texts you can send to help a family member with anxiety so you can best support your loved ones. It’s important to consider your person’s specific likes, dislikes, and communication styles to craft a situationally appropriate, supportive text.
“You've got to really think about the family member individually,” says mental health counselor intern
Brianna Wolf, MHC-I at Cazenovia University. “If you know they have a primary therapist, you could ask them what they think their therapist would tell them so it doesn't put the therapist work all on you. If they don't have a primary therapist, you could always start by acknowledging that they trust you enough to come to you with their anxiety.”
Even when you know your fam like the back of your hand, it’s not always easy to know what to say. Especially if you’re overwhelmed or anxious yourself, it can help to have some basic texts in your back pocket. Here are nine therapist-approved, customizable texts to send a family member with anxiety.
Simply letting your brother know that you’re there with him when he’s anxious about work can be a huge help, says psychotherapist
Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C. Anxiety can make someone feel isolated and alone, so you might want to remind your family member that they’re not by themselves. “Where are you feeling the most anxiety right now in your body?”
Wolf suggests asking this question when your sister knows she’s freaking out but isn’t too sure why. Identifying exactly what they’re feeling and why can
help a person feel calmer. From there, you might suggest they do a grounding exercise or do something nice for that part of their body — for instance, if their stomach hurts, suggest they get some water or have a snack. “Is there time to do something for yourself today?”
Telling someone what to do — go meditate or take a walk, for example — can feel dismissive, explains
Sarah Rice, MHC-I at NYU. Instead, try asking them if they can carve out some time for self-care in the midst of their anxiousness. “In what ways can I support you right now?”
This open-ended question will communicate to your fam that you’re down to help, but are open to suggestions as to exactly what they need, Morales says. They might want you to come over and bring pizza, or they could need you to send them an endless stream of
delightful TikToks for the next hour or so. Asking this question will give them a space to tell you exactly how best to help out. “Are you able to put your thoughts down in a notebook?”
This phrasing feels a lot different than “why don’t you write it in a journal?” — which can feel like you’re telling the person that
journaling will fix it, so they should stop talking to you about it. Rice tells Bustle that leading with a gentler version of that question can encourage your partner to self-soothe while letting them know you’re there for them. “Thinking of you.”
Your fave cousin might not be texting you about their anxiety at this very moment, but you know they’re going through a rough patch. This reminder never gets old, especially when accompanied by a
baby elephant .gif. “Would it be OK if I offered some possible ways...
... to help calm your nervous system? Once we calm the body, we’ll be able to figure this out.”
Morales suggests this detailed question as a way to get consent from your family member to offer suggestions for regulating their breathing and body. (Think
square breaths or an ice-cold shower.) It also reminds your person that this is something they can navigate and survive — and that they don’t have to do it alone. “Do you need an ear to listen, problem-solving, or both?”
Morales tells Bustle that it’s important to let your family member communicate what kind of help they’re asking for. If you jump into fix-it mode when they just need to vent, it can feel invalidating, she explains — so clarify what kind of help they want before diving into logistical suggestions.
“I’m so glad you reached out to me, but...
... I can’t be by my phone right now. Can we set up a time to check in later?”
You’re allowed to
set boundaries when you need to, even when someone you love is distressed. “You can care about a family member and recognize that you may not be able to give them your time, mental energy, and general resources,” Morales says. “Even with supporting others, there are limitations and boundaries that are important for each person. You are not your family member’s therapist.” So you can send affirming texts galore, but remember that you’ll ultimately be helping your found family more by supporting each other when you can — and gently setting boundaries when you can’t. Experts: Brianna Wolf, MHC-I, Cazenovia University Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist Sarah Rice, MHC-I, NYU