A Helping Hand
If we’ve been lucky enough to not experience anxiety ourselves, then we almost certainly know someone who has. Unfortunately rates of anxiety are on the rise, and more and more of our friends, family and colleagues will be suffering from it. But how to help them? Here are some tips to help someone you know and love cope better through a panic attack or bout of anxiety.
Understand - first and foremost, try and educate yourself on what anxiety is - it isn’t just being worried! You can see my earlier blog about the difference between anxiety and worry here. Read up a bit about anxiety, and try and gain a greater understanding of what is happening in their brain. It is an evolutionary adaptation, and just because you don’t respond in that way, doesn’t make it any less real for them. Our brains evolved to go through fight, flight or freeze when threatened. So for example, when highly stressed, my partner tends to go into fight...getting irritable and angry. For me, I go into freeze - I hide away and bury my head in the sand. Just because I don’t ‘do’ angry, it doesn’t make it any less real for him, and vice versa. By having a better understanding of the way our brain works, and the individual ways of reacting, we can instantly help more.
Ask and Listen - Ask! The person going through their anxiety will often know what will make them feel better. It may be to be left alone, or hugged, or maybe distracted. Ask, listen and then act.
Shift the focus - I’m not talking about being all sunshine and roses ‘everything is fine’ in the moment...but actually more about getting them talking/thinking about something completely different. Ask them if they’ve seen the newest episode of 'Bake Off' yet or something! Help them see that there is more in their life than their anxiety.
Don’t try and fix them - they’re not broken, they’re just scared. It is not something that needs to be fixed, simply comforted. Sit with them, hug them, let them know you’re there. In the heat of anxiety someone trying to come up with solutions can seem incredibly frustrating and patronising. We naturally want to fix things, and make them better, but in the moment, it is far from helpful.
Help them get help - Once the panic has passed, when the time is right, have a chat about options to help them in the longer term with their anxiety. There are many tools out there, from one on one therapy, to programs like Re:Mind that can help them change their default response to stress.
First and foremost - BE THERE. Physically being present can go a long way. Sit and be calm with them in the height of their anxiety. If you are breathing slowly, and sitting calmly, they are more likely to mirror that behaviour. Often just exaggerating and slowing our breathing can help them subconsciously start to do the same. Really truly be there, be present with them, let them know you’re not going anywhere!
So there you have it, some simple tools to help those you care about when they are struggling with anxiety. I hope you found it useful!