How To Help Me With My Anxiety
I’m not an expert. I can only talk about my own experience with anxiety. So I can’t speak universally for all people, but I‘m just hoping that some of these things will resonate and be helpful for others as well.
I get you just want to help me with my anxiety. I really do. This is no way a critism of anyone who’s ever said any of these things to me. I really really understand you mean to be supportive, but sometimes it has the opposite effect.
These don’t necessarily have to be during a full blown panic attack. These have been said to me when I am just having a bit of an anxious moment.
If just calming down was an option for me I would have done that already. I want to be calm. I don’t want to be freaking out. “Calm down” says to me “Your behaviour right now is unacceptable and you need to stop.” Or at least that’s how it feels to me. If you really want to help me the best thing you can do is be okay with my anxiety. Tell me that you’re there for me. That’s a lot more helpful than just telling me to calm down.
“Everything is okay”
Clearly it’s not okay! None of this is okay for me. If you feel like you need to reassure me then try something more along the lines of – “It’s going to be okay.” Acknowledge that there is a problem right now, but it will be resolved. Even if the only thing going wrong is I’m having a panic attack. Panic attacks do not last forever. It will run it’s course.
“You always think the worst”
What? Really?! I never noticed! I know what you meant was “You always think the worst – and it never actually happens.” But one of my biggest fears is that I’ll get into a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation where something I’m worried about will be real and nobody will take me seriously because of all the times it wasn’t. But knowing that someone is willing to take me seriously is incredibly helpful. For example if I know my partner will take me to hospital because I think I might be having a heart attack – even though we both know it’s “just” anxiety – it makes me feel a lot safer. Which means I’m going to calm down a lot quicker (Or we go to hospital. Either way has the same end result.)
The LAST thing I need to do is breathe. No. Really. If anything I need to breathe less. If you’re seeing me gasping, huffing, or my breathing seems irregular, I’m probably already hyperventilating. Hyperventilating is going to cause a whole heap of hideous side effects that will propel my anxiety attack along. Things like dizziness, tingling, heart palpitations, confusion, feeling like I’m suffocating. If I am hyperventilating I need to slow down my breathing. Some things that might help is breathing into a paper bag (yes, that’s a real thing). If there’s no bag I can cup my hands over my mouth and nose. Because once you start hyperventilating it’s really hard to stop on your own.
“What are you anxious about?”
Right now is not a good time to work-shop my issues. There may have been a trigger, but it’s rarely anything that needs to be discussed after the panic attack subsides. Even if it’s ongoing general anxiety – I’m probably not hiding anything from you, I just don’t necessarily have an answer to give you. Anxiety is what makes me anxious. That’s it. Maybe just let me know if there’s anything I want to talk about you’re happy to listen, and leave it at that.
Some more ideas that might help:
- Going for a walk
- Getting outside for some fresh air
- Give me permission to leave a stressful situation (ie “We can go home now if you want.”)
- Getting something to eat (if I’m anxious I often forget to eat and then that makes thinking clearly much harder)
Tone and intent makes a big difference, so of these things might be helpful under some circumstances, but I think the key difference is Sympathy vs Empathy. Maybe watch this video as well anyway. And I’ll say it again, I am not an expert and this is just my opinion.
I hope that’s helpful! If you have anything more to add – what’s helpful or not helpful to you – please comment below!