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How to Help Someone Who Is Having an Anxiety Attack

Woman Experiencing Anxiety
If you have a family member or friend who struggles with an anxiety mental health disorder, you might not know how best to support them when they experience a particularly bad bout of anxiety, often called a panic attack. Proper support during a panic attack can help someone cope more easily.
The next time your friend or family member needs help during an anxious episode, keep the following guidelines in mind. You can provide stability and grounding if you have the right approach. 

Make the Person Feel as Safe as Possible

Sometimes, anxiety can be triggered by a specific event, situation, or setting. If this is the case, be available to help the person to move to a different place or to feel as safe as possible where they are. 
For example, if your friend or family member is with you at a restaurant, you might suggest leaving to sit in the car, drive home, or even to get out and walk. Sometimes the pressure of a place can make a panic attack more severe. The knowledge that people are watching can add additional stress to a person who is already struggling to stay in control.
  Other ways to add safety or bring a sense of security to the situation by provided touch. Some people might not want to be touched. Respect this desire. But others might feel calmer if you provide gentle pressure to their back or neck. Others might want to be held tightly or have you keep hold of their hand. 

Practice Guided Breathing

Taking deep breaths can help reduce the severity of an anxiety attack. However, many people who suffer with episodes of panic may not be as skilled at remembering to breathe when the moment hits them. Breathe with them, encouraging a long breath in and a long breath back out again. Count as you breathe. Try four or five seconds in and four or five seconds out.
The rhythmic counting and breathing help to calm the body's fight or flight response to stress. Breathing can also provide a point of focus for a person who is anxious. People who have panic attacks may experience racing thoughts, including increasingly wild or illogical ideas. The simple focus on counting can slow down these thought processes because it requires mental concentration. 

Use Reassuring Words and Phrases

You might not know what to say to someone who is panicking. You might feel tempted to tell them to calm down or that there is nothing to worry about, but these phrases will not be helpful in the moment. Instead, use words and phrases that provide support without contributing to the stress of the attack. You might say things like:
  • You're not alone. Experiencing crippling anxiety can be a lonely experience. The person might feel as though there is no one who can understand them. Remain with your friend or family member and remind them you will not leave them alone to suffer. 
  • You won't always feel this way. To the sufferer, anxiety attacks may feel like major traumatic events that will not end. Some people have significant physical symptoms. People often find it comforting to hear that anxiety does not have to be a permanent state of mind and body.  
  • You are safe here with me. Feelings of danger, doom, or distress are common during panic attacks. Tell the person you will keep them safe. State things about the situation that prove safety, such as a locked door, four solid walls, good neighbors, and other features. 
To help keep a panic attack from worsening, you can also try to have a normal conversation about a subject that interests your friend or family member. For example, you might talk about a sports game you watched together. The conversation can help to keep the burgeoning anxiety at bay. 
For more information about how you can help a loved one deal with panic and anxiety disorders, contact us at the Heritage; Mental Health Clinic. Give yourself the tools to help the people you care about most.