Accessing Professional Support For Anxiety
If the person with anxiety hasnt been accessing professional support, yet their anxiety is having a significant impact on their day-to-day life, it may be something to think about suggesting to them.
Remind them that many people have experienced anxiety and that there is plenty of support available. Let them know that you will be there to help them during their first appointment and will continue to support them as they work towards feeling better. There are professionals who know how to deal with someone with anxiety and can provide all of the help and support needed to overcome this condition.
You may want to suggest that they start off by visiting their local GP. GPs are there to help with our mental health as well as our physical health, and they are able to provide advice, support and access to specialist treatment providers, like the Priory Group.
You can also suggest that the person starts off their journey by visiting Priory Group. Here, they will be assessed by one of our consultant psychiatrists, who will then work with the person to determine a diagnosis and the most effective treatment path for them at Priory Group. Depending on the person and their anxiety symptoms, this could include a course of therapy sessions, medication, a series of day sessions at one of our centres or an inpatient stay, if deemed necessary.
If you would like to find out more about the treatment that we offer for people with anxiety, please visit our anxiety treatment page.
Calming Step : Focus On Breathing
Your breath affects your mental state, so breathing is a crucial part of stopping a panic attack.
During a panic attack, your breathing speeds up, a signal that your body is in fight-or-flight mode, Dr. Josell says. Rapid breathing sends a clear signal that youre in danger, but slow, deep breathing helps to turn off the fight-or-flight response.
Do Not Try To Make Sense Of The Moment
Anxiety and panic attacks do not make sense. Trying to understand why they happen will frustrate you and your loved one. The person experiencing the attack may not understand why it is happening.
Do not spend time trying to get to the bottom of the matter. Instead, work on helping them to overcome it. Once they are calm, you can look into the causes and triggers of the attack.
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What Not To Do When Someone Is Having A Panic Attack
While its tempting to help your loved one avoid the feelings of panic by distracting them from their bodily sensations or taking them away from the situation, these are considered safety behaviors. While safety behaviors might help to ease anxiety in the moment, they could actually reinforce a cycle of panic that exists in panic disorder.
Safety behaviors and distractions can prevent people from learning that panic attacks, while uncomfortable, are not actually harmful or dangerous.
Your loved one can handle panic without actually doing anything, and its important for them to know that anxiety about panic goes away on its own without causing them harm.
Cognitive behavioral therapy a major method for treating panic disorder teaches you strategies to reduce your anxiety and avoidance around panic attacks. The idea isnt to prevent them but to sit with them until they inevitably pass. And often, you experience fewer panic attacks over time as you grow to fear them less.
The most effective way to react to a panic attack is just to ride it out instead of resisting or escaping it. While escaping a panic attack in the short term reduces anxiety, it just drives the panic cycle in the long term because you reinforce beliefs that panic is dangerous, harmful, or something that must be avoided at all costs.
The idea is to allow the symptoms to just be, which helps you to view panic attacks as a manageable experience, not one that needs to be escaped.
Dont Say: Have You Tried Meditation/yoga/cutting Caffeine/exercising More
Meditation and yoga and deep breathing and all of the other anti-anxiety trends that have taken pop culture by storm might be helpful for some people, maybe even your ultra-anxious friend. But they also might not.
Extreme anxiety can feel consuming, which means that small things like taking a few deep breaths might not be enough to counter panic in the moment. Anxiety can also make someone feel so restless that sitting quietly and letting their thoughts float away is pretty much impossible.
Everyone with anxiety has different relaxation techniques that work for them and some people need to do something active, like go for a run, instead of sitting and breathing calmly. Others may need to work with a therapist. Dont offer unsolicited advice unless youve been trained to treat people with anxiety disorders or you have one yourself and want to share your experience.
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Understand Their Panic May Not Make Sense To You Or Them
Panic attacks can be confusing as well as scary. People generally cant predict them and theres often no clear cause. They can happen in stressful situations but also during calm moments or even during sleep.
It might seem helpful to tell your friend theres nothing to be afraid of. But theyre probably perfectly aware theres no actual threat.
Thats part of what makes panic attacks so confusing. The reaction matches a fear response but nothings happening to cause that fear. In response, someone who gets panic attacks might begin to fear the symptoms themselves, or link them to a serious health issue.
Its typical to feel embarrassed or ashamed of such an intense reaction, Bingham explains. But having a trusted companion offer compassion can allow space for the person to return to baseline.
You can be that person even without understanding why they get panic attacks. Thats far less important than your ability to offer empathy and recognize their distress as real and significant.
Panic Attack Signs And Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. They rarely last more than an hour, with most ending within 20 to 30 minutes. Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. You may have one while youre in a store shopping, walking down the street, driving in your car, or even sitting on the couch at home.
Panic attack symptoms include:
- Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
Is it a heart attack or a panic attack?
Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that you may think youre having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the emergency room in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem. While its important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, elevated heart rate, or difficulty breathing, its often panic that is overlooked as a potential causenot the other way around.
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Dont Run Away Youll Only Strengthen Your Fears
I used to avoid places and situations where Id had a panic attack for fear of having another, but I found that actually going to that intimidating concert or overwhelming shopping mall, or whatever the case may be, has helped me regain freedom over the fear. Dr. Misti Nicholson, a psychologist and the director of clinical services at Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services, calls this using paradox.
She explains: Logic and intuition tell us to run away or fight when we are in danger however, when we avoid panic or treat it like an enemy, we make it stronger. Instead, it is important to take a paradoxical and counter intuitive approach to panic. I often encourage my patients to do the opposite of what anxiety is expecting them to do. This often means moving toward what they are afraid of when anxiety is telling them to back away.
Ways To Prevent Panic Attacks
“You need to try to work out what particular stress you might be under that could make your symptoms worse,” says Professor Salkovskis. “It’s important not to restrict your movements and daily activities.”
- Doing breathing exercises every day will help to prevent panic attacks and relieve them when they are happening
- Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will help you to manage stress levels, release tension, improve your mood and boost confidence
- Eat regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking these can make panic attacks worse. Panic support groups have useful advice about how you can effectively manage your attacks. Knowing that other people are experiencing the same feelings can be reassuring. Your GP can put you in touch with groups in your area
- Cognitive behavioural therapy can identify and change the negative thought patterns that are feeding your panic attacks
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Breathing Exercise For Panic Attacks
If youre breathing quickly during a panic attack, doing a breathing exercise can ease your other symptoms. Try this:
- breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose
- breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth
- some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath
- close your eyes and focus on your breathing
You should start to feel better in a few minutes. You may feel tired afterwards.
Visit the No Panic website for another breathing exercise to calm panic.
How To Help Someone Having A Panic Attack: 3 Immediate Actions You Can Take
âThese physical sensations are very real.â
It happened in the last place I wanted it to: the airport security line at Newark Liberty International Airport. Someone had accidentally taken my laptop and I had a panic attack.
I knew what was happening, even as I asked an overwhelmed TSA agent what I was supposed to do about my bag. My breath started to rattle. My heart rate jumped. My skin crawled with chills, and my environment started to appear distorted. I sat down. People stared, their concerned eyes looking at me over their face masks.
As I tried to breathe, an angel appeared. Vanessa from United Airlines crouched next to me in heels, gently asked if I wanted help, if she had permission to touch my arm, and basic, grounding questions. Then she led me to a private space to compose myself.
Having a panic attack sucks, but itâs also difficult to know how to help someone having an attack with such grace as Vanessa. Most people will have one or two panic attacks at some point in their life. If you havenât had one, itâs likely youâll come across someone who is in the midst of a panic attack. What Vanessa did helped me. Experts tell me there are other helpful steps you can take, too.
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How To Help Someone Breathe During A Panic Attack
When a person is experiencing a panic attack, it is important that they get their breathing under control. Someone trying to help should not give them a paper bag to inhale and exhale from, as this could make them pass out.
Instead, it is better not to bring attention to their breathing and to keep calm and breath normally so that they can mirror this pattern. This method should hopefully get their breathing back under control.
Helping someone who is having a panic attack can be very stressful, so it is important that a person is mindful of what actions could make a panic attack worse.
Actions that could make a panic attack worse include:
- Saying âcalm downâ: While getting a person to talk is vital, phrases such as âcalm down,â âdonât worry,â and âtry to relaxâ could make the symptoms worse.
- Becoming irritated: Remain patient to help a person deal with a panic attack and do not belittle their experience. The focus should be on them, for however long it takes the symptoms to pass.
- Making assumptions: Always ask a person what help they need, rather than assuming or guessing the correct advice.
While a panic attack can happen very suddenly, the person will often experience warning signs. These may include:
- shortness of breath
- feelings of terror or dread
- shaking and dizziness
Remind Yourself That It Wont Last Forever
Even though panic attacks can feel interminable, they tend to peak within about 10 minutes. Its physiologically impossible for the body to stay revved up much longer than that, says Martin Burch.
Reminding yourself that the experience is time-constrained can help you put it in context and handle it. After a panic attack, think back on it and tell yourself something like, That felt terrible, but it only lasted nine minutes. Then, bring that fact front and center if you have another panic attack. Reflecting back on a time when you did manage a panic attack can remind yourself that you have the ability to get through them, says McCabe.
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You Have No Reason To Be Nervous
Most likely, the person who is having the panic attack is aware that there is no reason to be anxious. When going through a panic attack, a persons fight-or-flight stress response is triggered, making their mind and body prepare for an actual or perceived threat.
Even if they are not in any real danger, they still may not be able to stop the attack from running its course. Reinforcing that the persons fear is unfounded can increase ones sense of .
Instead of bringing the lack of threat to their attention, try being a voice of encouragement. Use a soothing voice and simply remind them that you are there for them.
How To Help Someone Through A Panic Attack
A person experiencing a panic attack experiences symptoms similar to if they were facing a threat. A panic attack in a moment of intense fear, but there usually isnt an actual threat. The trigger to someones panic attack isnt always clear.
If you come across someone experiencing a panic attack, here are some things you can do to help them through it:
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Things You Shouldn’t Do
Donât try to minimize it. Understand that the panic you see is real to your friend, even if the cause may not appear rational to you.
Donât be judgmental or critical. Blaming someone for a panic attack doesnât help. Donât try to talk them out of it, either.
If you know what causes your friend’s attacks, donât help them avoid the situation. Escape now could be harmful later. It could make the anxiety worse and raise the odds for more attacks. They may also become reliant on you to shield them from their fears.
Help Bring Their Focus Back To The Present
An intense anxiety or panic attack may feel surreal. Your loved one may be having an out of body experience. They may lose their sense of the present. Being trapped in irrational fear can make them forget where they are.
You can contain a panic attack using various grounding techniques. These techniques bring the persons focus back to the present moments. It helps to make them aware of their surroundings and calm down.
Making them touch a physical item such as a chair or wall might trigger them back to reality.
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Focus On Action Over Words
A soothing, familiar voice helps some people, but try to avoid repeatedly saying things like dont worry or asking them if theyre alright over and over.
Of course you mean well, but your words may not have much benefit in the moment. They can also make the situation more stressful, since your loved one may believe theyre doing something wrong by not being alright.
Treatment Options For Patients With Anxiety
There are two primary treatments for individuals with anxiety:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy , which involves learning how to lower anxiety and face distressing situations.
- Medication management with antidepressants, which works well on its own but even better when coupled with CBT.
During therapy, continue to show your support by:
- Asking your loved one what you can do to help them.
- Asking if you can attend a therapy session to learn some skills to better support them.
- Making time for your own life and interests to sustain your energy.
- Encouraging your loved one to try another therapist if the first one isnt a good fit.
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Do Not Force Them To Confront Their Fears
Although you should not enable avoidance of difficult situations, you should not force someone to do something they are afraid of. Trying to push them to deal with anxiety when they are not ready will damage your relationship.
In the heat of the moment, focus on calming them down instead of trying to solve the cause of anxiety.
Emphasize The Importance Of Breathing
One consistent factor for people suffering a panic attack is disruption of the breathing process. People in the throes of panic make their symptoms and their anxiety worse by breathing too fast, too slowly, too shallowly, or too deeply. These alterations and inconsistencies only feed into the anxiety, making it difficult to regain mental and emotional control when panic starts to take hold.
This wont end the panic attack immediately. But it can halt its progress and help the person having the attack feel more empowered and in control. In the future, breathing techniques should be a part of their anti-anxiety arsenal.
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