What Do You Say to Someone During an Anxiety Attack?
A few days ago, a friend who lives with generalized anxiety disorder called me while in the throes of a severe panic attack. She had been awake for a couple of days, she was crying, and she was terrified. The first words out of her mouth when I answered were, “This is never going to end.”
She described that, in the past couple weeks, she had lost 15 pounds, she wasn't eating, and she couldn't sleep for more than 20-30 minutes at a time. Through choked tears, she described cold sweats, heart racing, and an assault on her senses that can only be truly understood by someone who has gone through it. She was, without a single doubt in my mind, in one of the deepest panic and anxiety attacks I have ever witnessed.
What Do You Say to Someone During an Anxiety Attack?
I understood what she was going through, since I've experienced it myself. But what do you say to someone during an anxiety attack?
After she finished describing everything she was going through, she waited for my grand words of wisdom. I said, calmly and confidently, “I know.”
That isn't all I said, of course. I explained that I had been through it, that it will get better, and that she would be okay. I asked follow up questions to make sure she was safe, advised her to seek medical attention if she felt she needed it, and reassured her that she was not alone.
But all my advice and all my helpful suggestions came back to two simple words: “I know.”
Her mind was a jumbled mess of racing thoughts, sleep deprivation, fear, and so many emotional triggers that she couldn't relay them all to me if she tried. But the most terrifying aspect to her was that she thought she was all alone.
She believed no one understood her or what she was going through. This made most people’s advice, reassurance, and support meaningless. If they couldn't understand what she was going through, they couldn't offer her anything to help her get through it.
Understanding the Experience of the Anxiety Sufferer
Understanding anxiety disorders as a concept isn't all that difficult. I have explained it with sports and public speaking analogies and HealthyPlace has many panic attack articles and blogs to help people understand anxiety.
But understanding the experience of the anxiety sufferer is almost impossible if you haven’t lived through it yourself. It is terrifying and discouraging and, to the outside observer, it just doesn't seem, or look, serious.
Anxiety makes us feel alone, isolated, and afraid. It prevents us from connecting with others and interferes with our ability to accept help. I constantly remind myself that I am not alone, and know there are many people who understand. I am thankful that I can be there for someone, just as so many people have been there for me.
Howard, G. (2014, July 2). What Do You Say to Someone During an Anxiety Attack?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/07/advice-for-anxiety-sufferers
Author: Gabe Howard
So, what DO you say to someone having a panic attack if you have never had one yourself. It sounds like support is meaningless, but there must be something a relative could do. What do you suggest? Keep them talking if on the phone or not leave them alone?
Carolyn - That is a VERY good question and you have given me the topic for my next blog post! Please check back at this link on Wednesday and I will have it posted! In the meantime -- there are many great topics and suggestions covered in these pages. Thank you for reading and commenting! ~Gabe
I had my first panic attack at 13 years old. It's only gotten worse over the years, and there is literally no one around me who understands what I'm going through. My husband just stares at me when it's happening. It's so true. It's the most isolating thing. It's like being trapped in a glass box. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I wish I had somebody around me that I could call without them telling me to snap out of it.
Hello Angela - Thank you for reading and commenting. Having folks around us that understand is so incredibly helpful. I encourage you to look for a support group where you can openly discuss with other people what is happening. I have found this to be very helpful in the past. You are not alone! ~Gabe
I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and OCD for many many years now. I am currently taxing lexapro which is helping me a great deal for now...I would love to know how to deal with this disorder in the future without taking medication. I have a fear of diseases which is so bad sometimes it stops me from going for check ups, because I am so afraid they will tell me something bad. When I finally make myself go get check there is never anything wrong, but always the fear there will be...its a terrible way to live, but most people do not understand it, and I know I have been made fun of, because people just think you are crazy....I am also 53 years old, so that makes it worse.....
Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It is appreciated. I take medication for my anxiety and bipolar disorders and I am better off for it. I encourage you to continue taking your medication -- I have found it to be very helpful. Please be well! ~Gabe
I have had to explain to work supervisors that employees who experience panic attacks also have anxiety about having an attack again.
They just don't get it.
They don't understand how this can happen in the first place and they don't understand that once you have had an attack you don't ever want one again.
It is very hard to relate what a panic attack is to someone who has never had one. Or at least it is for me.
Thanks for reading and commenting. You are not incorrect, I have expeirenced similiar. Panic attacks are scary and it is understandable we would want to avoid them. ~Gabe