Three Steps For Helping Someone Suffering From Anxiety.
What To Do VS What Not To Do
Don't Say: "Are you okay?" "You look really sick/red/pale etc"
Do Say: "Hey, have you noticed this?"
Why? Listen up.
When someone close to you is suffering an anxiety / panic attack, it may or not be extremely visible. Some people may turn red and blotchy, some may start touching their chest near their heart, some may seem to shut down. Other people may appear as normal as they would any other day.
When someone is suffering from an anxiety attack, it often crosses their mind that they must physically look ill and this can add to their building anxiety. This means a genuine question you may ask about the person having an anxiety attack can actually add to their symptoms.
Asking a question that points something out in the surrounding area is a great alternative. For example, if you were out at a restaurant and noticed someone experiencing an anxiety attack, ask a question such as, "Hey, have you checked out the appetizers here?"
Why does this help? A question about the surrounding area helps in grounding the person. Grounding can be an extremely helpful technique when suffering an anxiety / panic attack. It draws attention to something that can be of focus, decreasing the amount of attention given to the anxiety itself. It helps with staying present in the moment - not the past or future.
Grounding is all about the five senses. You can point out a smell, a texture, or an interesting detail of the surrounding area. When suffering an attack, this attention to the environment can help to remain grounded; it brings down the unrealistic thoughts and fears that come with anxiety and instead helps you to stay present in the moment.
Don't Say: "That's silly" or "Why would you worry about that?"
Do Say: "Is this fear something that calls for immediate concern, or is this fear anxiety based?"
Why? Listen up.
It's easy for something that seems totally crazy to take on a very real fear/worry in the minds of those suffering from anxiety. Such thoughts can easily snowball out of control. Worries can range from anything, such as a fear of people talking about you, a fear of experiencing a heart attack - or even fear of an anxiety attack happening.
When looking in from the outside perspective, it's easy to laugh off such worries. You may think that pointing out the ridiculousness of someones worries will help them realize they aren't realistic - but this does more harm then good.
A person suffering from anxiety often feels like they are crazy - they can be constantly tortured by their thoughts and worries. And even if it is something that is absolutely crazy, that doesn't make it any less real to the person who is worried about it.
Asking them for their opinion on their fears/worries is a great way for them to voice how they feel - and this can be great for bringing their anxiety down. Talking about how they are feeling, both physically and mentally, lets out the building tension that comes with an anxiety attack.
A neutral question that lets them focus on reality, while at the same time being able to voice what scares them, is a perfect opportunity for focusing a mind that may be frantically racing.
Work through their anxiety with them, and help them make a plan in case their fears were to ever happen. For example, if someone is afraid to leave their house alone and go to the store, work through what scares them about it. Is it other people looking and judging the person? Suggest some sunglasses or let them know they can call you - talking to a calm person while experiencing an anxiety attack lets them focus on your voice - and this means less focus on being uncomfortable in public.
Don't Say: "Come on, you'll be with me. I won't let anything happen to you."
Do Say: "If you're comfortable going with me, I'm happy to go anywhere you feel up to going"
Why? Listen up.
It can be extremely hard to not want to protect and help someone feel better that is suffering with anxiety - because that's truly the intentions of any good friend, family member or partner. However, it also must be realized that you, unfortunately, are not the golden cure for them.
This may sound harsh but it is ultimately true. You can definitely help, but sometimes you must take a step back and realize that you alone cannot control the physical and mental symptoms of someone suffering from anxiety - but that doesn't mean you are taking a step back from caring about the person.
You may reassure that, whatever or wherever you are going with them, you'll be there and everything will be okay - but sometimes things aren't okay. This can also put pressure and stress on top of their normal anxiety to go someplace or to do something that they aren't ready for yet.
Anxiety is about pushing yourself, but it's also about taking baby steps.
When you ask where they are comfortable going, that puts them in control, and being in control can help tame the uncontrollable beast that is anxiety. Take your time with what they say they are comfortable doing, and slowly make progress.
Above all, do still care and help if they suffer an anxiety attack while out. It may happen or it may not - but if it does, it will happen during something they are comfortable doing. That way, it's only a baby step back - not a major fall.
It can be extremely frustrating and difficult to watch someone close to you suffer from anxiety. Of course, if there was a magic pill you would do anything to get it and cure their anxiety - but sadly there isn't. It can make you doubt yourself - why aren't you good enough to make them feel better?
You can help definitely - along with other forms of treatment. Talk to your friend/family member/partner about what they would feel comfortable trying - and be there for them when they do. While seeing a therapist or going on medication may seem daunting, there are other smaller (baby) steps they can take on the road to happiness - things such as vitamins, changing their diet, getting proper sleep, avoiding things with lots of caffeine such as coffee or tea, and getting out for fresh air and exercise - exercise could be as simple as going for a walk around the block at first.
Allow yourself to be available and non-judging throughout their road to an anxiety-free life, and they will reach that point having a stronger relationship with you than ever.