Your chest feels tight and your heart is pounding. Numbness and tingling in your hands and face begins. Every breath feels quicker and more shallow. Your palms are sweaty, muscles tense and the tunnel vision sets in. Your jaw is clenched, your mind is racing. Thoughts ricochet in your brain like a million ping pong balls bouncing all around.
“Will I ever get relief? How am I going to make it through this deadline? When will I have another panic attack? Why did I do that today? Why am I so stupid? How will I ever get back to Becky about her party next week? What will I say? I can’t tell her the truth about why I don’t want to go. She’s going to be so mad at me. I’ll never be good enough. I can’t do it. I should be able to handle this – why am I so freaked out all the time?”
This is Anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, and yet only 36.9% of those suffering ever receive treatment. Loved one’s of someone experiencing anxiety often find it difficult to understand the struggle it can be to get through a day or moment when anxiety is rampant. Questions I get asked often by loved one’s and people experiencing anxiety include: “What does it take to relax?” and “What do I do when I can’t figure out what started it?”
Here are some ways to support someone you love through anxiety:
- Just be there. Especially in the midst of a panic attack, it is important that you calmly support the person through this moment. Grab them a glass of water, a warm blanket or open the window for fresh air. Ask them what is something they need in this moment to help them feel more comfortable.
- Help them to ground into the present moment. Anxiety is tough because it haunts us with the past and jolts us into the future. When we can force our brain to focus back into the present moment, we can get some relief from those racing thoughts and worries. Help your loved one engage in some sensory grounding. Ask them to point out 5 things they see in the room, 4 things they hear, 3 things they feel or can touch, 2 things they smell and 1 thing they can taste. This forces the brain to pull energy away from the anxious thought process and provides some relief by coming back into the present moment.
- Help to slow their breathing. If you notice rapid and shallow breaths, remind them take deeper, slowed down breaths. Breathing in for a count of 3, hold for 1 second and breathe out for a count of 4. If they are too distracted to engage in a breathing routine, remember that their breath will naturally start to match yours. As you can engage in this exercise and slow your own breath, they will begin to get some relief as well.
- Use short term distraction. Turn on some music or a TV show that they really love. Get outside together to go on walk. Anything you can do in the moment to change the pace and engage them in a new activity will prove positive and productive for reducing anxiety.
- Provide reassuring words. Sometimes, in the midst of anxiety or panic, people don’t want to hear anything from their loved ones. It’s important to follow the cue of your loved one and if talking is overwhelming them more, use the tools above to provide a calm and serene environment for them. When they are ready to talk, remember to be non-judgmental and supportive. They might not need or want to talk about solutions for the situation or event that is causing them anxiety. More so than advice, they need to be reminded of their strengths, resilience and the hope you have for their future.
- Support them in connecting to treatment. Let them know that when they are ready, you will be here to help connect them to a therapist, support group or whatever resource they feel will help them to make positive strides in coping with and managing their anxiety.
It is important that someone who is experiencing anxiety have the support and resources that they need. Often times, people with anxiety can experience relief even after just a few sessions of therapy, where they will learn skills for managing distress, challenging negative thoughts and coping with panic. If you or someone you know is looking for support around managing anxiety, Call me today at (805)774-1449. I would love to speak with you more about ways to find some relief and reprieve.
Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2018, from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#