Sure, your intentions are good, but by simply uttering one word, you can unintentionally make a situation spiral out of control.

Think back to the last time your friend or partner was seriously stressed out. Say he had a presentation to give at work that day and was late hitting the road because he couldn’t find his cell phone. He was nervous, panicky and running around like a chicken without a head. In an effort to calm him down, you tell him, “Relax!” Now he’s jumping down your throat on the verge of a rage blackout.

It turns out that telling someone to relax when they are already stressed often has the opposite effect. Think about it. It took all morning for your friend to get worked up, so it’s not like he can instantly relax on cue.

Here are 6 better strategies to help calm someone down:

1.Recognize his feelings.

One of the reasons saying “relax” can backfire is that the person on the receiving end may feel like you’re missing the point and want him to hide his true feelings. Instead, try being understanding and saying something like, “Wow, you’re having a rough morning.”

2. Ask an open-ended question.

Give your friend a chance to talk about the situation. Ask, “What’s going on?” or “Would you like to talk?” Then listen to the response without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Offer help.

If you are able, do something specific to help, such as pouring him a cup of coffee in a to-go cup for his drive to work. This is often better received than asking, “Do you need help?” which can come across as vague and is easy to dismiss. However, if you legitimately don’t know what’s going on or what you can do to improve the situation, ask how, not if, you can help.

4. Empathize.

When it’s a co-worker who is feeling the pressure, it can help to reassure him or her that many in the office share stressors at times because of deadlines or a change in management. Suggest working on a solution as a group.

5. Share a laugh.

Laughter is critical when it comes to stress relief. Text or email a funny meme you saw on Instagram or that video of the hamster eating tiny burritos to give your friend a quick chuckle. Keep it short though, so you’re not distracting him or her from the task at hand.

6. Suggest taking a break.

When all else fails, never underestimate the power of a walk around the block or a coffee break to help calm someone down.

If you or a loved one are feeling stressed regularly and normal relaxation methods aren’t working, schedule an appointment with a primary care physician who will be able to help strategize solutions for stress relief and improved health.

If you’re in the Southern California area and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit to schedule an appointment.

By Anne Fritz