Understanding Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks can be deeply unsettling experiences, not just for the individuals who suffer from them but also for their friends and family. This guide aims to provide an understanding of these conditions and their potential causes. 

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When someone close to you is struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, it can be tough, but there are ways to help. Here’s what you can do:

Avoid pressuring them.

It’s crucial not to push your friend or family member to do more than they’re comfortable with. Being patient, listening to their needs, and moving at a pace that suits them is key.

Be understanding. While it’s natural to want to help them face their fears or find solutions, forcing them into situations before they’re ready can be distressing and might worsen their anxiety.

Remember, their difficulty in controlling worries is part of having anxiety. It’s not something they’re choosing.

How to help someone who is having a panic attack

When someone you care about is having a panic attack, it can be scary, especially if it comes on suddenly. Here’s how you can help:

  • Try to remain calm yourself. This can make a big difference.
  • Let them know gently that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you’re there to support them.
  • Help them slow down their breathing by doing something structured or repetitive that they can focus on. You could count out loud together or show them a simple movement like raising your arm up and down slowly.
  • Suggest that they stamp their feet on the spot. This physical activity can help.
  • Recommend finding a quiet place to sit and focus on breathing until they start to feel better.

It’s important not to suggest breathing into a paper bag during a panic attack. This method is not safe or recommended.

For more information and tips on handling panic attacks, you might want to look at our page dedicated to panic attacks.

Try to understand their experience

  • Learn as much as you can about anxiety to better grasp what they’re dealing with. Reading about others’ personal experiences with anxiety can also be enlightening.
    Inquire about their specific experience with anxiety.
  • Ask how it impacts their daily life and what tends to improve or exacerbate their anxiety. Truly listening to their experiences can help you empathize with their feelings.

Offer your support

Your friend or family member might already have ideas on how you can assist them, like supporting them through tough situations, speaking to them calmly, or doing breathing exercises together.
Asking them directly how you can help puts them in a position to express their needs, which can make them feel more in control.
Just knowing they have someone nearby who understands what to do if they begin to feel scared or start to panic can make them feel more secure and at ease.

Encourage them to get help

If you notice your friend or family member’s anxiety is affecting their life, encouraging them to see a GP or therapist could be a good step. Here’s how you can help:

  • Assist them in setting up a doctor’s appointment. If they’re hesitant to leave home, suggest they call their GP to ask about home visits or phone consultations.
  • Offer your company for their appointments. You could accompany them and wait outside, and help them prepare what they want to discuss with the doctor. For tips on talking to a GP, check our guidance.
  • Guide them in finding a therapist. For advice on this, see our information on locating a therapist.
  • Explore different support options together, like community services or support groups run by organisations like Anxiety UK and No Panic. Our useful contacts page has more info. You can also call Mind’s Infoline for details about services in your area.

Take care of yourself

Helping someone with a mental health issue can be tough, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes. It’s crucial to also take care of your own mental health so you can continue to be supportive.

Here are some tips:

  • Set clear limits for yourself and don’t overextend. If you get too stressed, you won’t be able to help them or yourself effectively. Know your boundaries and how much you can realistically offer.
  • Share the caregiving role if possible. Helping someone is easier when you’re not doing it all by yourself.
  • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. While you might want to keep details about the person you’re helping private, sharing your own feelings can be relieving.
  • Seek support for yourself. The organisations in our useful contacts are available to support you too. Finding a peer group or trying therapy might help you manage your own emotions.

For more advice on coping while supporting someone, managing stress, and improving your own mental well-being, check out our resources.

Get support

Talk with a trained professional about your thoughts and feelings with out free counselling and private counselling service for people over the age of 18.

Counselling Private Counselling