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Anxiety Attacks – What Not To Say (And how to really help)

How To Help Me With My Anxiety

anxiety-kitty

***Disclaimer****
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.

“Calm down.”

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.)

“Just breathe”

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)

***Another disclaimer***
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!

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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14 comments

  1. Great tips; I definitely think I would be an annoying person who would head straight for work-shopping. Thanks for explaining why this might not be the best option.

  2. Spot on. I think the best thing someone can do is try not to make a scene out of it. If I’m having anxiety I’d rather someone discretely take me to a safe space and distract me with something so I can calm myself down.

    It honestly feels like people think we are just stupid. Yes, I know I need to calm down, breathe, not worry. I know I’m not going to do (probably). The issue is that we generally know that the reaction we have to certain things and situations are irrational, but it’s an uncontrollable physical response.

  3. I wrote about my anxiety experience this week too. It’s so hard when people don’t understand, but I think sharing your experience is one way to help people to empathise a bit more. I love this post – all those quotes are so true. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Really helpful. I know so many people who suffer from anxiety – I think we all do – and I’d much rather be a supportive person, than a totally non-helpful one!

  5. Christine Knight Thomas

    Super helpful thank you for posting.

  6. Helen King

    Thank you! (and I love the YouTube clip, each time I see it)!

  7. El Tan

    This is such good information! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Natasha Ferguson

    This is fantastic advice Rachel- I’m never sure what to say (and may have been guilty of saying one of these sayings in the past!). Now I know! xx

  9. Fi Morrison

    This is close to an article I posted the other day about anxiety. So true – thanks for sharing this to help others understand!!

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