In this guide, we will discuss “What to say to someone with anxiety attack” and some of the things to avoid saying to someone who is potentially having an anxiety or panic attack.
What to say to someone with anxiety attack?
If you don’t know what to say to someone with an anxiety attack start by listening first to your friend or the person you are trying to help.
First of all, let’s talk about how some anxiety is normal, healthy, and definitely part of our lives.
However, it becomes a problem when we become overly anxious and it starts to impact our lives negatively. Anxiety attacks are considered as waves of anxiety by many.
As indicated by Mckenna Printing, “While everyone experiences anxiety, people experience differing degrees of severity, says Ty Lostutter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety and treats patients at University of Washington Medical Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.”
Moreover, it is widely accepted that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses people consult a mental health practitioner, and the frequency seems to keep increasing.
We may not be aware but you or someone you know, whether it is at work or a relative, may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
However, in many cases, we are not prepared to help or support our friends or loved ones suffering from mental illnesses.
Here we will give you a few recommendations when having to face this type of situation and what you could say to someone with an anxiety attack and what not to say.
In contrast, if you feel they are too overwhelmed and you are not able to help as much as you would like to, support them to seek help by encouraging them to visit their GP or a therapist.
However, do not pressure them but offer to help them arrange the appointment or your support when they attend their appointments.
You can also help someone with anxiety by giving them gifts. This way, they might listen to your advice.
What to say…
Imagine you see someone you love going through an anxiety or panic attack. Of course, at first, you may be confused and feel there is more you could have done.
Maybe you froze, panicked, didn’t know what to say and just waited for it to end or maybe you started asking too many questions that made the other person feel confused and more anxious.
However a simple ‘let’s do this together’, ‘I’ll be here if you need me’, ‘I am here if you need to talk’ or ‘Take your time’ would be extremely helpful when helping someone go through an anxiety or panic attack.
You could also remind them they are having the anxiety or panic attack and how they are not obligated to stay where they are so you could offer to take them somewhere else.
For instance, as indicated by George Tinari from medium.com “They can leave if they are panicking about something or feel uncomfortable. Offer them a ride home if necessary after observing the person’s current mental capacity.
Absolutely don’t pressure them to do something they don’t want to do.”
The truth is if you have never seen someone experience or you are not familiar with what is an anxiety or panic attack before it is normal to have all those reactions the first time. Let’s take a look at some useful recommendations.
Don’t pressure them
As indicated by mind.org.uk, “Try not to put pressure on your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with.
It’s really important to be patient, listen to their wishes, and take things at a pace that feels okay for them.”
However, it may come naturally to you to panic and start asking a lot of questions such as “Tell me what can I do to help?’ or ‘what is wrong with you?’.
It is normal to want to help them any way you can but sometimes doing less is more. Just stay calm and let them know you are there for them.
Try to understand what is happening
Try to find out as much information as you can about anxiety that can help you understand what your friend, relative, or partner is going through.
It is not enough to say ‘I know how you feel’ when you haven’t experienced one or if you don’t even understand what is happening.
Moreover, ask them about their experience and how they feel without, how it affects their lives, just listen and try to understand.
Don’t assume, ask
It is easy to assume what they need but the best thing to do is to ask them. According to mind.org.uk, “By asking them what they need or how you can help, you can support them to feel more in control themselves.
Knowing that there is someone around who knows what to do if they start to feel frightened or panicked could help them feel safer and calmer.”
Make sure to let them know you are there for them
As indicated by Gillian Brown from thebodyisnotanapology.com, “Sometimes a person with anxiety will want to talk through what is bothering them.
Other times they will prefer to be by themselves for a while so they can sort out what is going on in their heads.
And then there will be times when they will want to be by themselves, but will want to talk it through later. Whatever the case, many people with anxiety worry that they will be bothering or burdening their friends and families if they share their anxiety problems.”
Subsequently, saying something like ‘Let’s do this together, I won’t go anywhere’ can have a major impact on the person. An anxiety or panic attack can be overwhelming, exhausting, frightening, scary, etc., so having the certainty someone is there to help can give them a sense of safety and support.
‘Is there something I can do to help?’
This type of question provides some options, be prepared. For instance, if you ask a friend ‘Is there something I can do to help?’ they might simply say, ‘Can you help me get my medicine?’ or ‘No, just give me some space.
Moreover, they could also just ask you to stay with them while they go through the panic attack but don’t actually require anything specific.
Sometimes having someone there is enough, even if they don’t actively participate.
They can’t control it
You may feel compelled to say something like ‘It is all in your head, you can control it’.
The truth is that if they actually could control it as easy, they wouldn’t feel as they do: hopeless, embarrassed, frustrated, ashamed, etc.
As indicated by Gillian Brown from thebodyisnotanapology.com, “anybody with anxiety can accurately proclaim that this belief is false, but that does not stop people (including some very influential people with the power to change national medical and social policies) believing that mental illness is series of imaginary afflictions concocted by people hoping to gain pity from the masses.
As the ones who feel this stigma, hearing our loved ones say ‘I know you can’t control it’, or ‘you are not making this up’, or ‘this is not your fault’ is a form of validation.”
What not to say…
There are more things we could say that may have the opposite effect from the one that we intended, for instance, saying ‘I know how you feel’ just to sympathize even though you don’t really know how it feels can be a bad idea since it can backfire at some point.
Moreover, saying ‘You should try doing…x or y’ will make them feel as if they are not doing enough, and not every tip or technique out there may be a good fit for some people.
Try not to offer advice unless they have asked you, you are trained to treat people with anxiety disorders or you suffer from one so your experience would be highly appreciated.
Also, avoid asking ‘Are you OK?’ because it is obvious that if they are feeling extremely anxious and upset, they are clearly not OK.
with this type of question what we may do is make them feel pressured to feel OK and get better but this will not fix things immediately.
Another arbitrary and judgemental question would be ‘why aren’t you seeing a mental health expert or a therapist?’ or ‘why aren’t you medicated?’.
This is completely wrong on many levels and may sound as you are accusing them of not really doing anything to get better.
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Why is this blog about What to say to someone with anxiety attack important?
As we have discussed, it is normal to not know what to say when someone is having an anxiety attack or panic attack.
This is a sensitive topic for most people and anything you can say can have a positive or negative impact on the person you are trying to help.
In terms of what you could say, we mentioned a simple ‘let’s do this together’, ‘I’ll be here if you need me’, ‘I am here if you need to talk’ or ‘Take your time’ would be extremely helpful when helping someone go through an anxiety or panic attack.
However, we also mentioned some of the things we should be aware of such as asking ‘Are you OK?’ or assuming we know what is best for them giving our advice on their condition without really knowing or being judgemental by saying ‘why aren’t you being treated for this?’.
We need to be careful but don’t be too hard on yourself at first, you are allowed to make mistakes.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
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Mind.org.uk: “Anxiety and panic attacks”
Brown, G. (2017, Dec.) “Take Your Time:” 10 Things to Say to Someone Who Has Anxiety. Retrieved from thebodyisnotanapology.com.
Tinari, G. (2014, Jun.) How to Handle Someone Else’s Anxiety or Panic Attacks. Retrieved from medium.com.
Pricing, M. (2018, May.) What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone with Anxiety. Retrieved from rightasrain.uwmedicine.org.