After my recent article, What It’s Like To Have An Anxiety Attack On An Airplane, a friend asked me, “What could one do to help someone during an anxiety attack?”
The answer isn’t an easy one. Everyone with an anxiety disorder has different triggers and coping methods; there is no blanket answer for how to help someone.
When I told that to my friend, they seemed disappointed and asked, “So there’s nothing you can do to help them?” But that’s not true either.
There are some things you can do to help a friend with anxiety, starting with the most important…
Let them know you’re there for them
Whether it’s to talk, listen, or just be a presence, offer your support, and they’ll let you know what they need. Some may tell you to leave them alone; it’s nothing personal, it’s just how some deal. Meanwhile, others may find having a person’s presence calming. Be there for us, and please respect our wishes.
Knowing we have someone we can turn to when we’re feeling anxious is so important.
Share your anxieties with us
But recognize, having occasional anxiety isn’t the same an anxiety disorder, because everyone gets anxious once in a while. However, sharing yours and talking about it makes us feel not so alone.
In fact, talking to us can sometimes help get our minds off if it. Diverting our attention can be a great diversion from focusing on our anxiety.
Stop using certain triggering phrases
Please don’t tell us to ‘just calm down,’ ‘it’s not a big deal,’ ‘quit thinking about it,’ or worst, ‘anxiety isn’t real.’ These phrases do the opposite and make everything worse, even if after the anxiety passes, it’s true. Plus, if we could do those things, the calming down, the not seeing it as a big deal, the not thinking about it, we would.
Research anxiety disorders
When you don’t have an anxiety disorder, it can be hard to relate or understand what it means for a person to have an anxiety disorder. What’s not a big deal to you, could be huge and triggering to someone with anxiety. Admitting you don’t understand is okay, too.
Doing some research to understand and educate yourself is never a bad thing.
Help us find/enjoy coping activities
Everyone has their own way of dealing with anxiety. Some sweat it out at the gym; others enjoy a soak in a candle-lit bubble bath. Some indulged in a cold drink; others pamper themselves with face masks. Some escape to a new reality via television/movies/books; others like to write or journal. Some have a combination of these; others have none of these. Join us in finding ways to cope before, during, and after. Plus some of these activities are nice; anxiety or no anxiety.
Don’t bring attention to us
The last thing we want while having an anxiety attack is to be surrounded by people – no matter their intentions. Help us get to a safe, comfortable spot, tell other’s we’re okay, you got it, and let us go through the anxiety attack without it being a big production. We may find a presence comforting, but being surrounded by people when you come to is uncomfortable and embarrassing. We want space to breathe, and to be safe.
Ask them what they want
Perhaps the most important, or on the same line as being there for your friend, if your friend has anxiety and is going through an attack, ask them what they want. They’ll know best. Use these tips as a guideline, but always trust your friend when they tell you how to help them with their anxiety.