Day: October 3, 2012

Things to Help and Hurt an Anxiety Attack

Cycle of Anxiety

Hello readers.  As you all know I suffer from mild anxiety and occasional panic attacks.  I find that those not familiar with mental illness struggle to help people out of an attack.  I am no doctor but after dealing with this for most my adult life here’s my advice


1. Continual encouragement.  Remind them the episode is like a foot cramp, temporary and it will be over. ‘You can do this’.  ‘This is really hard’.  ‘We love you no matter what’.

2. Remind them of the deep breathing exercises and get them to walk, eat, do something physical.  Make sure they are not suicidal and do not need immediate hospitalization.   If they really can’t breathe and their symptoms are getting severe (heart palpitations, seizures, temperature) take them to the hospital.

3. Ask them to think of some of the processing skills learned in therapy.  In my case I study cognitive therapy so using my charts to write it out can help.

4. Remind them that they are not stupid and then when they inevitably feel guilty over the attack and apologize just let it go say something like ‘that’s what family is for’ or ‘we are always there for you’

5. Try to be empathetic and tell them (even if you have a to fake it a little) ‘I can see how that would be very upsetting’.

6.  Distraction can be very helpful in calming down the mood.  A song, a board game, a trip to anywhere can be helpful.

7. Medication can be a powerful and helpful tool.  I use it on an as needed basis and sometimes it has saved my life.

8.  Get them to make a decision.  Often for me the what if’s, should be’s and what will they thinks are  at the root of most of my anxiety.  By making a decision I am taking control and will feel more confident (sometimes quite dramatically).

9.  In general I find to be as practical as possible is helpful.  What I mean is get them to think of something practical they can do immediately to give some confidence like make a sandwich, get a glass of water, or do an errand.

10.  Realize some people may be triggers and should just be avoided during this sensitive period.

11.  Meditation and essential oils really do help me.

12.  Realize that every anxiety/panic attack I’ve had has been one of the scariest experiences of my life.  For about 30 seconds I feel like I’m going to die.  It is awful.

I’ve learned a lot over the years but I will always have the potential for anxiety. It will never completely go away.


1. Do not tell them that things could be so much worse and life is terrible for wounded warriors or starving children in Malaysia and that we should all just ‘grow up’.   I feel anxious just writing that sentence down.

2. Do not try to solve whatever problem it is at least at first.  My first panic attack I ever had was because a kindly boss agreed to solve an employee dispute I was in on Monday.  This meant I had 3 days to worry and panic about what would happen.

3. Saying things like ‘well, you should just quit your job/marriage/friendship whatever if its causing such anxiety’ is not really helpful.

3. Do not assume they need to talk it out.  That can be the worst thing.   Eventually yes, but not in the moment of the attack.

4.  Do not tell them you understand unless you really understand.

5. PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL-  Do not look for or expect a rational explanation or problem.  Again, people have anxiety over opening a door or shaking a hand.  It is not a rational experience.  That does not mean it is stupid or they are a weirdo.  We all have irrational responses to life.  How many of us shrink back at a garden snake that is harmless or shriek at a spider that is almost always harmless.

6.  At least for me solving the exact trigger for the panic attack does not help much because it like fixing a decoration of a cake made out of glue.  The tipping point is just one part of all of the things, so trying to fix that one thing does nothing and may add additional anxiety.

7.  Realize that stress and anxiety are not the same thing.  My last post I wrote about stress.  That is day to day, how am I going to get everything done emotion.  Anxiety is like a fever of the brain.

8.  Don’t assume saying ‘calm down’ will do the trick.  That puts pressure on the person and can actually cause more anxiety.   “I love you”.  “You can do this”.  “It will be Ok”  Much better.

READ FEELING GOOD by DAVID BURNS.  It gives you so many PRACTICAL solutions to help.

Long of short of it- I’m not going to slam the dam any more.  Extrapolate from that and the post above what you will 🙂

Ok.  Got tons of work to do today.  Getting to it!  🙂

I took from some inspiration for this post from Jamie from her blog James and Jax blog.  Her post is great as well and I did get her permission for using her inspiration.