Because each individual is inherently different, it is safe to say that these 3 things may not apply to every single person. However, since anxiety affects 40 million adults (18.1% of the population) each year (ADAA), it is also safe to bet that these 3 things will be shared by many.
Okay, first and foremost- anxiety SUCKS.
It's a roller coaster.
Sometimes just when you think you'll
catch your breath, you're going down another drop.
But I'm not here to tell people with anxiety what they already know. I'm here to help people who don't experience it for themselves gain some insight on what their friends or family might be facing.
So if you're with someone that is having an anxiety attack- remember these 3 things.
1. They may not be able to answer the question, "What's wrong?"
Often times, an anxiety attack isn't just brought upon by one single event. It can be the accumulation of things over time. Things that your friend of family member might not have actively been thinking about at the time of the anxiety attack.
And honestly, once they're in the middle of one, the last thing they can do is think clearly.
Imagine being trapped in a house that is on fire, and desperately searching for a way out.
That's what it feels like inside the mind of someone going through an anxiety attack.
So, although it may be frustrating to not receive a clear answer from someone that you just want to help- don't take it as evidence to invalidate what they're going through.
"Oh, well since they can't tell me what's wrong, it must be nothing".
No. Understand that it doesn't always make sense to them either and right now their mind and body are in survival mode, just trying to get through it.
2. Don't try to "fix" them.
It can be very frustrating for someone experiencing anxiety to hear a lecture about how they should solve their problem or fix their life - EVEN IF the intentions behind it are purely to help.
It's just not the right time for that.
The advice could be taken as an insult to their intelligence and also leave them feelings like nobody understands what they're going through.
Instead, be a listener. If they feel comfortable enough around you to open up about their thoughts and feelings in the midst of an anxiety attack, consider yourself special, because that alone takes a lot of effort on their part.
If they are unable to speak at that moment, just be there for consolation. That might just mean being present with them, giving them a warm touch, or a soothing voice to say, "I love you and I'm here for you".
3. Stimuli can make matters worse.
In the midst of an anxiety attack one's senses may be heightened. This is due to the "physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat"(anxietycentre.com).
A.k.a. - the "fight or flight" response.
So, what does this mean? This means that any extra stimulation can actually have an adverse affect on someone having anxiety, since they are already dealing with so much of it in their own mind. Overload.
AND IT CAN COME FROM A LOT LESS THAN YOU THINK!!
Here are some examples of stimuli that seem harmless, but can worsen an anxiety attack:
Being too hot/cold
Air conditioning / a fan blowing directly on them
Physical touch of another person
Wide open spaces (ex. malls / large empty parking lots)
It might not be our first reaction to look around for potentially harming stimuli, but, if we're aware of what it is, we can prevent ourselves from contributing to it when someone is anxious.
There you have it. Those are 3 things people battling anxiety want you to know.
And I'll be honest here- I was guilty of doing all 3 of these things until I experienced real anxiety first hand. Then, I developed a whole new understanding of the word.
Luckily, I am able to explain these things because I have been on both sides of the coin. But for some people with anxiety, they find it difficult to explain what bothers them.
So, I hope I was able to shed some light on the experience of anxiety for those that do not suffer from it, and perhaps help give a voice to those that do.
Thanks for reading.