Anxiety is normal, it’s a part of our lives. In fact, a healthy dose of worrying is said to be good for us as it alerts us of potential dangers and fears. We’re all prone to worrying and getting scared from time to time. However, when anxiety finds a place in our day-to-day lives, lasts for long periods of time and hinders our wellbeing, it should be taken seriously.
People are often dismissive of those who suffer from anxiety as unfortunately, anxiety doesn’t come in visible physical symptoms but rather in mental and psychological anguish that you may be unaware of.
So, it’s extremely important to be sensitive to what those with anxiety go through, even if you’re unable to comprehend the reason. It can be extremely distressing to see someone you love suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, but there are several ways you can lend a helping hand. The first step, though, is to start recognizing the signs and educating yourself about the condition.
What are some of the major signs of anxiety?
Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions in our country and knowing the signs can help you recognize when someone is going through an anxiety attack.
Some of the common physical signs are:
- Feeling edgy or restless
- Shortness of breath
- Getting tired easily
What could they be thinking?
Of course, you can’t predict or understand what someone is thinking inside their minds but being aware of the thought process of those who experience anxiety can give you a greater insight into why they are how they are.
- Believing the worst will happen
- Persistent worry
- All-or-nothing thinking
What are some of the behaviours you should look out for?
- Avoiding feared situations and events
- Seeking constant reassurance
- Second-guessing everything
- Irritability or frustration with feared situations
- Compulsive actions
If you’ve ever seen a friend or a loved one suffering from a panic attack or have been at the receiving end of a few panicked texts, you know how it feels to not be able to help a friend in need. No one can be completely sure of what to say in situations like these but to help you through, we’ve put together a few things you can try saying as well as a few you should steer clear of.
What should you say to someone whose anxiety is climbing?
- “What can I do to help?”
You must be thinking this question is so obvious and simple, but without knowing what the person requires, how do you go about helping them? In a situation where someone is experiencing anxiety, only they know how you can help them. Some may want support, some may want advice, and some may just want to be left alone. Instead of diving in straight away under the assumption that they need your help, you should pose an open-ended question that lets them know that you’re there for them.
- “Would it help if I sat with you?”
If your friend or loved one is going through a severe anxiety attack or experiences anxiety that makes it difficult for them to communicate, just sit next to them for as long as they need you to. Having a physical presence next to them can make anxious people feel supported. Try saying, “I know you’re spiralling right now, and it feels out of control, so let’s just breathe together until it passes.” Offering reassurance is one of the ways you can help a loved one.
- “Are you looking for advice or would you rather I just listen?”
Our first instinct when trying to help someone is to immediately share advice that we think will be useful. And at times, that’s exactly what they’re looking for. Other times, people want to vent out their anxious thoughts instead of getting a list of things they should do in response. Sometimes lending an ear is way more important than you think. Let your friend talk to you candidly, create a space for them that’s judgement-free. If they want advice, try being subtle about it and cushion it with, “I don’t know if this fully applies to what you’re experiencing.” Let it be a conversation and not a lecture or a rant.
What not to say to someone whose anxiety is climbing?
- “There’s no need to panic.”
If you’ve seen someone go through a panic attack, you know that that’s the last thing they want to hear. It’s okay, we know that anyone’s first instinct would be to ask the other person to stop panicking, but sadly, that’s not how panic attacks work. Trying to stop someone by saying “Don’t panic” or “It’s fine” can make them think that not panicking isn’t an option. Instead say something like, “I know this is difficult so let’s just sit through it. Panic attacks always pass,”
- “Everyone gets stressed, it’s totally normal.”
While you might want your friend to feel less alone in such an anxious time, trying to normalize their condition can make them feel invalidated. And it can also make you seem like you don’t know the difference between stress and clinical anxiety. Don’t try to respond to your loved one’s experience by sharing your own mental health struggles, this may turn the focus of the conversation on you when it should be about their anxiety. Yes, you can definitely share the similarities to help them feel that you understand but refrain from diving deep.
- “Just stop worrying.”
This is just as bad as telling someone to relax. It may sound and seem innocent but can be taken as an outright attack. Be aware that you need to be conscious and considerate of the words you use. Anxiety invokes feelings of threat and endangerment, the fear of the unknown rises high. Saying things that are critical or forcing pressure onto someone can increase their levels of anxiety. Asking them to “just stop” or calling them “too sensitive” can tip their anxiety scale and attack them in a space where they feel most vulnerable.
Remember, no one’s perfect. And it’s completely fine if you don’t know what to do or if you worry about saying the wrong thing to your friend. What really matters is that you’re willing to help and are taking active steps to be there for your loved ones, and they know that you’re always there for them too.