For the person experiencing an anxiety attack, it feels like the world has momentarily shifted on its axis. You only need to look at their sweaty palms, their fast breath, and their shaking hands to see the obvious impact these attacks have.
One aspect that often gets overlooked in regards to anxiety disorders is what these issues are like for the people witnessing the condition. If you are forced to watch a friend or family member suffering through a panic attack, you can feel completely alone, impotent, and incredibly confused as to how you can assist.
Helping someone with anxiety attacks – Stay calm and remain focused
While you are not going to be able to stop an attack from occurring, there are techniques you can use that will provide some comfort to the sufferer. If you know someone who regularly suffers from anxiety problems, then this could be invaluable advice that helps both of you cope the next time an attack hits.
Don’t Tell Them Everything Is Okay
Does that sound harsh? Perhaps it does on the surface, but there’s robust logic to avoiding this cliché. To someone in the midst of an anxiety attack, they’re not okay. Telling them the opposite isn’t going to mean anything, except potentially cause more irritation and distress.
Do Show Your Support
If you can’t say that everything is okay, then what can you say? The best option is to steer clear of meaningless platitudes, opting instead for comforting reassurances. Choose phrases like “I’m here” or “I’m listening”. These show your solidarity and your support, but without an emphasis on the sufferer to do anything in response. You’re not instructing them; you’re showing you’re by their side for the duration.
Don’t Allow Them To Hyperventilate
If someone is struggling through an attack, there is a good chance they will be hyperventilating – rapidly breathing in and out, yet seemingly still struggling for air.
The main problem with hyperventilation is that it can perpetuate an attack. While there is an outside risk they may lose consciousness due to over-oxygenating their blood, this is not a particular cause for concern. Even if it does happen, they will regain consciousness very quickly.
Nevertheless, hyperventilation is something you want the sufferer to avoid if at all possible. Try and encourage them to breathe slowly, inhaling and exhaling to a count of five. You should breathe along with them to help them sustain a rhythm.
Do Keep Them Moving
Many anxiety sufferers feel the need to “get small and get low” – i.e. they will curl up, potentially in the fetal position. Try and interrupt this if you can. Encourage them to stand up and walk around, which helps to channel the sudden excess burst of anxious energy into something more productive.
Don’t Stop Touching Them
Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact is inherently calming, so try and maintain contact wherever possible. The easiest way to do this is by holding their hand or placing your fingers on the back of their neck – unobtrusive ways of obtaining the close contact they need.
Do Let The Attack Run Its Course
Anxiety can be terrifying, but it’s important to remember that it’s a temporary state. The adrenaline required to sustain an anxiety attack will always recede within half an hour, so the attack will come to a natural conclusion. If you try and force someone to “get over it” before the adrenaline has faded from their system, you risk both upsetting them and appearing uncaring. It’s important to remember that you just need to wait it out.
There’s no doubt that anxiety attacks can be worrying to witness, especially if you have not dealt with them before. However, by following the steps above, you can be sure you’re doing everything that you need to do to guide the sufferer through the worst of it.
Tutorcare offer extended courses offering insight into anxiety and panic attacks. These include common triggers of depression and for anxiety attacks.
More can be found here – Mental Health Care Courses