Anxiety, everyone’s best friend. You know who I’m talking about. The one that creeps up on you at the most unexpected times and thrives on sweaty palms and racing heartbeats. If you know, you know. You may be the lucky one who has never felt a tinge of anxiety or nervousness and carries on with life as if Katy Perry circa 2010 rules the world. Orrrr you may be like the rest of us that can’t seem to escape the endless cycle of overthinking and worrying. If you’re the latter, I feel you.
Anxiety is a very difficult thing to deal with, whether you experience it every day or once in a blue moon. What’s even more frustrating is watching someone you love struggle with it. Although I’ve dealt with anxiety myself, I know how challenging it can be to be the person on the other side. You may feel helpless and confused, frightened and sad. We’re typically not trained as humans to know every trick that will instantly stop someone’s anxiety attack. But with a little bit of education and practice, we can be a support to those around us.
Do you have someone in your life who suffers from ongoing negativity and anxiety attacks? Are you questioning what you should and shouldn’t say or do? If you want to learn a few do’s and don’ts of supporting someone through their anxiety attack, keep reading.
– DO assure them that everything will be okay. Maybe not right now, but soon
When someone is experiencing an anxiety attack, odds are they’re not thinking about the future and how things will get better. All they think about, say, do and see is negative. It’s your job to be that reassuring light in their life at that very moment. Don’t swarm them with positivity because you might get the opposite reaction you were looking for. Instead, use gentle reminders that what they are going through is temporary and won’t last forever.
– DO encourage them to breathe and drink water
The most important thing to do for someone when they’re having an anxiety attack is to help them keep their breathing steady. They’re probably hyperventilating and not aware of their increasing breath, so do them a favour and get them a glass of water so they can regulate their breathing. The last thing you want is for them to have trouble breathing.
– DO remind them that they’re not alone
A simple reminder that you are there to support them can make a world of difference. Reassure them that you have their best interest at heart and will stay with them for as long as it takes for them to be okay. Sometimes all they need to know is that they have someone that is genuinely there for them.
– DO let them know that you will be there after the fact
It’s easy to pick up and leave once the heavy breathing and tears have stopped but make sure to let your loved one know that you will be there should they need you. Assure them that they can reach out no matter what or when. Oftentimes, they might be hesitant to reach out later because they may feel as if they’re being a burden, so it’s up to you to give them a quick text, call or visit letting them know you’re thinking about them and you’re always there.
– DON’T tell them to “calm down” or “relax”
Nobody and I mean n-o-b-o-d-y who experiences anxiety wants to be told to relax when that is the last thing they can physically (or mentally) do. This will only make them more upset, angry, irritated, frustrated, etc. Instead, use encouraging phrases like “breathe”, “I’m right here”, “it’s okay”, “let it out”.
– DON’T ask why they’re panicking or what’s making them anxious
The funny thing about anxiety is that sometimes we have no idea where it comes from. Some people experience Generalized Anxiety Disorder and some people are triggered by very specific things. Whatever the case may be, don’t ask them why they’re anxious because that may come off as if you’re asking for a reason as to why they’re feeling that way. They don’t need to validate their feelings. Sometimes people are anxious for no apparent reason, so please respect their feelings and just be supportive.
– DON’T be judgmental
The last thing somebody wants to feel on top of feeling anxious, sad and upset is judged. There’s nothing worse than counting on someone for support and instead they react in a judgy manner. Do your best to show your support for them and their feelings.
– DON’T brush it off
Anxiety is a big thing, as is all mental health. When someone is experiencing an anxiety attack, you should let them know that they are all that matters in this instant. By brushing it off or belittling the situation, it can make the person feel like they’re not a priority.
– DON’T try to distract them
The first thing that probably comes to your mind when supporting someone who appears to be in distress is to distract them. Let’s get one thing straight, they’re not a baby. They may be struggling but they’re not stupid. Don’t try to get their attention off the situation by telling them to look over their shoulder at the rare bird in the tree. Instead, you’d actually want to make them more aware of the situation and their surroundings because this will help ground them. One of the most common activities for anxiety is the 54321 Grounding Technique. By making them focus on every single thing around them, it helps calm their system and bring them back down to a level where they can control their thoughts and emotions.
Anxiety can be a scary thing to deal with when you don’t have any knowledge on how to help or even how it feels to be anxious. It’s understandable if you aren’t sure how to help someone who is experiencing anxiety, after all, not everyone is a therapist. But by brushing up on your skills, you could be a really good support to someone in need.