“Everything is going to be alright. You just need to calm down.”
For some people, these words don’t seem bad at all. In fact, they give off a sense of reassurance, letting you know that whatever situation you’re faced with right now you’ll get through. However, for someone who suffers from anxiety and is prone to having panic attacks these words can do the exact opposite.
I’m one of those people who can relate to feeling negatively affected by these words. I’ve been dealing with my anxiety and panic attacks for almost three years now. To say I’ve been managing well with it though would be an understatement.
Even dealing with it for as long as I have there are still days where I feel like I can’t control my anxiety, and then I’ll get a string of good days or even weeks where it feels like I never had anxiety to begin with. Then, before I know it, something triggers in me, and I start to feel my hands shake, my heart racing and my chest squeeze and get heavy.
The first time I ever experienced a panic attack was three years ago while I was at work. All I remember about it was my legs shaking uncontrollably, having a feeling like something terrible was going to happen to me and crying in the breakroom in front of a bunch of my coworkers. The first time it happened I managed to calm myself down and continue working, but when it happened again at work the next day, I couldn’t control it and ended up going home.
Once I got home I immediately went up to my room and stayed there for the next two weeks. I was so afraid of going outside out of fear that I would have another panic attack. I let my anxiety control my body and mind for so long because I didn’t know how to control it myself. The worst part was feeling like I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. During that time, I didn’t know of anyone who was going through or had been dealing with anxiety, so I suffered in silence.
Although there have been more people opening up and telling their own stories on how they cope with their anxiety, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health. There is a lack of importance when it comes to getting the word out there and spreading awareness. Mental health deserves to be recognized as something worth talking about and needs to stop being pushed aside.
One way we can start helping others during an anxiety attack is learning to identify some of the common symptoms. These can vary and not everyone will experience the same things. Symptoms can be anywhere from mild to severe so being able to identify some of them can be helpful. They include the following:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath/ Feeling like you’re choking
- Hot or cold flashes
- Upset stomach/Nausea
- Feeling lightheaded or faint
- Fear of losing control or dying
Once we start to see a few of these symptoms develop we can think of appropriate ways to help during their anxiety attack. It only takes a few minutes for an anxiety attack to bubble up. Often, sufferers feel these physical symptoms which warn them of the attack coming on. Lucky for me, I’ve mainly experienced my anxiety attacks when I’m with my boyfriend, and we’ve been together long enough for him to know when I’m about to get one. I’m so grateful he can detect them because he is able to help me through it.
If someone near you is experiencing an anxiety attack, acting quickly may help reduce the severity and duration of it. Here are some ways to help someone during an anxiety attack:
1. Tell the person to stop what they are doing and sit. Then, help them relax by guiding them to take deep, complete breaths. Often, it’s our uncontrolled breathing that makes us panic more. I find when I’m in the throws of an attack it’s incredibly hard to get my breathing back under control. However, once I am able to control it I start to feel much better.
2. It’s always good to let the person know that what they are feeling right now is an anxiety attack and that unlike what your mind and body are telling and doing to you right in that moment, it is possible for you to take back control. Remind the person to keep breathing and that nothing life-threatening is happening to them right now. Although one of the symptoms we begin to feel sometimes is an impending doom or this fear of dying doesn’t mean we can’t talk them out into believing it’s not actually happening.
3. Another thing to do is to speak to the person using coping statements. They help assure the sufferer that they will be okay. Lastly, we want to show the person that their feelings are real and there is nothing to be ashamed about. A person having an anxiety attack may feel embarrassed that they’re having this happen to them in the first place. Make sure to tell them that there is no judgement and they are supported no matter what. When I get like this I too feel embarrassed for letting it happen, but it’s the people who help me through it and make me feel better that let me know I have nothing to be embarrassed about.
The fact of the matter is this, mental illness is not something to be shoved aside and anxiety attacks are real. So, the next time you see someone exhibiting even a couple of those symptoms, please consider helping them, your simple act of kindness can go a long way.
Written by: Kirstie Devine