First you need to recognize the signs of an anxiety attack. Sometimes the individual might tell you that they are having one, but oftentimes it is difficult for them to really talk about what is happening.
If you notice any of the following, your friend might be having an anxiety attack:
- sudden paleness/flushed face
- sudden overwhelming panic/fear
- difficulty breathing, or appear to just not be breathing
- heart palpitations, increased heart rate
- they seem detached, withdrawn from their surrounding environment
- they need to sit down immediately, maybe even dropping to the floor if there are no seats around
You might want to gently ask them if they are having an anxiety attack, and also ask if they’ve had one before. They might have certain things they do to cope with this situation.
Ask them if there is anything they need.
Offer to get them some water or tea. Cold water can really help ease some of the symptoms– hyperventilating, difficulty breathing, high heart rate and nausea in particular– and will help them to calm down. Chamomile tea is excellent for calming people, as well as for easing nausea.
Ask if they want to talk about it. For some people, talking about what provoked the attack (be it a fear of public speaking, a loss of a loved one, a confrontation or whatever) can help them to work through it. For others, they won’t want to talk about it, and that’s okay too.
Talk about something else. This one my Mum taught me through Anxiety of her own and dealing with mine as I grew up. Try talking about your/their favourite times. Mine was always Christmas. Talking about good times or memories, can trigger a different kind of emotion, like excitement or fondness. It’s a great distraction if you can accomplish it.
Remind them to breathe. It may seem like silly advice but sometimes we really need that reminder.
Suggest going for a walk with them, especially if you can go outside. Fresh air, exercise and a change of scenery are all really good things for working through an anxiety attack.
If you are very close to the person, you can ask them if they want a hug. Do not be upset if they say no– each person deals with anxiety differently and some don’t want physical contact.
If you can, you may want to give them a pillow or something to hold. Holding something against your chest can help you to feel safe and may ease anxiety.
Remind them that they are safe. Whatever it is that is worrying them, remind them that their present situation is completely safe. They are going to make it through this. Focusing on the present moment might help them to realize this. Have them pay attention to what is around them. My favourite thing to do is to notice five things for each of the senses– five things you can feel (clothes rubbing against your body, feet in shoes, hands on lap, back leaning against chair, etc.), five things you can hear (people talking, wind blowing, birds chirping), five things you can see, five things you can smell, and five things you can taste. (it might be difficult to do the last two unless you’re eating but the others should be no problem wherever you are)
Remind them that they are loved. Clearly you care about them enough that you want to help them work through this anxiety attack. They may feel embarrassed to have shown this side of themselves to you. If they suggest that, let them know that you don’t think lesser of them for it.
Don’t diminish their concerns. Even if it seems silly to you, don’t tell them that what they are thinking or feeling is silly. My Fiancé is real buggar for this one sometimes.
Allow them to cry if they need to. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Letting it out often helps.
Ask if they would like to listen to music. I personally have a playlist on my phonio that is full of songs that help calm me, and I listen to it when I feel like I may have an anxiety attack coming on. They might have something similar, and if not there may be a particular band or album they have that helps them to feel calm. Other people prefer silence and that is fine too.
This list is mainly made up of things that have helped me in my personal experiences with anxiety or panic attacks, and in helping friends go through similar attacks. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but should help you to understand how to get through it yourself or help a friend in need.
Ps, all my friends – TAKE NOTE! Tehee…
Ellen-Jayne x x