Have you ever experienced an anxiety attack?  If so, you know that they are terrifying.  If not, try to imagine what it feels like to be drowning and having a heart attack at the same time.  Anxiety attacks can strike anyone at anytime, however some that suffer from generalized anxiety disorder can have frequent attacks. Sometimes the individual might be able to identify the attack when it is coming on and tell you that he or she is having an anxiety attack. If they are unable to verbalize what is happening, it is important to know the signs! Here is a list of common signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack:

  • heart palpitations and increased heart rate
  • sudden paleness or a flushed face
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • hyperventilation
  • tension
  • sudden overwhelming panic/fear
  • difficulty breathing, or appear to just not be breathing
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • they seem detached, withdrawn from their surrounding environment
  • they need to sit down immediately, maybe even dropping to the floor if there are no seats around

If you notice any of these symptoms, ask the person if they are having an anxiety attack.  They may not be able to answer, however you can see subtle clues that they are confirming that it is an attack. If they experience frequent attacks, they may have learned methods to cope with these brutal attacks.  Be sure to ask them if they need anything and also let them know that you are going to stay with them through this difficult time.

Here are some things you can say to help your friend or loved one get through an anxiety attack:

“Can I get you a glass of water or a cup of tea?”

A big glass of cold water, sipped slowly, can really help ease some of the symptoms and can help with focus and encourage steady breathing. Warm tea can also be very soothing.

“Can you tell me what you were doing or thinking about that could have made this happen?”

For some people, talking about what provoked the attack can help them to work through it. For others, they won’t want to talk about it, and that’s okay too.

“Just breathe! We’ll get through this!”

It may seem like silly advice but sometimes we really need to be reminded to just breathe!

“Would you like to walk, maybe step outside and get a little fresh air?”

Fresh air, blue skies and increased circulation can all help someone work through an anxiety attack.

“May I give you a hug?”

Each person deals with anxiety differently and some would welcome a hug, while others would not welcome physical contact. Give them something soft to hold, like a pillow, blanket or stuffed animal. Holding something against your chest can help you to feel safe and secure.

“You are safe, and I am going to be here to help you get through this!”

Whatever it is that is worrying them, remind them that their present situation is completely safe. They are going to make it through this and you are not leaving their side.

“Let’s focus on our breathing and and stay in the now!”

A little dose of mindfulness can go a long way. Ask them to notice what is around them. What do they see, hear, feel, taste and smell. As them to focus on where they are right NOW, not what came before or what is to come in the future,

“It’s okay, anxiety attacks suck!  We’ll get through this!”

Clearly you care about them enough that you want to help them work through this anxiety attack. They may feel embarrassed to have shown this side of themselves to you. If they suggest that, let them know that you don’t think lesser of them for it.

“It’s okay to cry!”

Tell them it’s okay to cry. Letting it out often helps.

Helping a friend or loved one through an anxiety attack is no walk in the park, but they will appreciate your support.  At Exult Healthcare we offer individual therapy, intensive outpatient programs and medication management for anxiety disorder.  Contact us today for more information on anxiety disorder and anxiety attacks.

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