Chronic anxiety is one of the most common disorders in the world, yet few people are comfortable responding to panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Seeking professional help is always a sound option, but there are things that anyone can do to help someone with anxiety or panic in the moment.
What’s the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety disorder?
An anxiety disorder is usually associated with a particular stressor. People with anxiety disorders tend to feel shortness of breath and a quickening heart rate when exposed to stressors. Panic attacks, on the other hand, are not related to a particular stressor – they are completely unpredictable and unprovoked. The physical symptoms may feel similar to an anxiety attack, but also include symptoms such as nausea and dizziness.
How do I help someone having a panic attack?
Panic attacks can come at any time. It helps to know the symptoms so that you can recognize when a panic attack happens. When someone is going through a panic attack, the following could be helpful:
- Stay calm yourself – gather your composure first
- Ask them whether they have had panic attacks before, and if so, what may help
- Help them sit or lie down, preferably in a quiet location
- Remind them to take deep, slow breaths
- Remind them that the panic attack will pass
- Call 911 if the symptoms persist
How do I help someone with an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are characterized by difficulty concentrating or sleeping, feeling “on edge,” and avoiding places or situations that have caused anxiety attacks in the past. There are a few helpful strategies:
- Educate yourself about anxiety, so you can understand and empathize better
- Let them know you’re there to support them
- Remind them it’s not their fault – anxiety is tough, so it’s okay to feel overwhelmed
- Help them break free of avoidance behavior – when someone avoids something due to fear of anxiety, the anxiety tends to snowball, so helping them take the first step can help break out of that holding pattern
- Help them get the right professional help – there are tons of professionals out there, but it can be difficult to navigate the best one for each individual, so helping your friend through that journey can be really meaningful