Coping. Anxiety. How to help.

Recently, I have been asked quite frequently, "what can I do to help?" in regards to anxiety and other mental health issues.  Many people are asking because they have never experienced the throws of mental problems and do not have any idea what to do for a friend or loved one, but they desperately want to.   I commend them.  First and foremost, for being accepting of the different issues, some don't even make it that far.  The willingness to help is really the most meaningful thing a person could do.


Unfortunately, there is no blanket issue covering all problems, illnesses etc. so there can be no catch-all, fix-all, help-all.  Damn, do I wish there was!  We do not all experience the same things, hell we barely encounter the same things each time within our own dealings.  Similarly, there is no one thing that always works to help.  So what I am going to do is tell you a few things that happen to the person experiencing the issue, so you can grasp some of the depth.  And then I am going to detail some of the possible things you may be able to do, to help.

The very next most helpful and important thing you can do, after accepting what is happening, is to talk to your friend or loved one about their needs.  Creating a safe space for the discussion, where someone like myself can trust telling you what is happening, and what we need, can come in-hand during the heat of battle against our own minds.  It also allows us to deal with and accept what is happening as well.  The shroud of secrecy on these topics only further alienates those that suffer. Alone.

Now during an attack, or episode is not the time to communicate about this topic in detail. It is also not recommended to force the conversation.  One thing you HAVE to let go of is that we can be "fixed", so give that up right away.  You should also relieve yourself of the delusion that you can control any part of what is happening while you are at it.  Open up the possibility for us to communicate, (and then hang the hell on) then listen and help if you can.

Some things (no this is not a complete list) that a person suffering from anxiety may feel, experience, exhibit, succumb to, etc.  Sometimes several at once, sometimes no specific order, or extremity of experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heart rate, feeling as extreme as a heart attack
  • Loud humming, pounding, static or ringing in ears
  • Inability to focus
  • Cheek chewing
  • Knuckle/joint cracking
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Hair pulling
  • Exhaustion
  • Leg shaking or tapping
  • Hiding, canceling plans, avoiding people, crowds, etc.
  • Losing track of time, minutes feeling like hours
  • Detachment
  • Change in pitch of voice
  • Clenching fists
  • Overheating, sweating
  • Uncontrollable panic, sometimes towards something that does not exist
  • Lightheaded, dizzy
  • Choking
  • Grasping neck or head
  • Burning sensation on the skin
  • Weakness in joints
  • Paleness, flushed face
  • Feeling sheer terror that you are going to die
  • Stomach cramping, IBS, vomiting

Sounds like the side effects of the worst meds ever huh?  Imagine when they strike all at once.  It can be debilitating to say the least.  Now, herein lies the struggle for those who want to help... which thing(s) is the person dealing with, and what types of things can be helpful, and hurtful?  Again, not a fix-all list, merely suggestions to discuss with the person suffering.  Together you can find some things that work, maybe not all, all of the time, but at least a few to rely on from time to time.

  • Medication and therapy - let them know there is no shame in seeking help, drive them, go with them, just do not force them (unless there is potential for harm.)
  • Having them breathe with you, like reverse Lamaze, long slow controlled breaths. Even holding breaths for a few seconds before releasing.  Sometimes it feels like the air in our lungs is the only thing we have any control over.  Get in unison and slow things down.
  • Reassure them that they are safe, if you are not in a place that feels that way get them somewhere that is.
  • Do not say things like "just stop" "calm down" "you're over reacting"
  • Find out if there are endorphin release triggers that snap them into the real present moment.  For example putting my hands in cold water sometimes helps, or drinking cold water.
  • Get them cooled off, fresh air or AC, as long as it's cooling them.
  • Oils such as lavender, citrus, peppermint, and frankincense (or other personal picks)
  • Relaxing or happy music, this is a proven perfect choice, click here.
  • Chamomile, green or other calming teas
  • Exercise, go for a walk in nature, pound on a heavy weight bag.
  • Give it time, 20-30 minutes is the average time in panic.  Could be more or less, so go with what they are doing, feeling.
  • Be mindful of eating, sometimes feeling hungry can trigger an attack.  And that is tough for some of us to monitor because of the lack of feeling hungry.  Read more on that here.
  • Meditation can help control the mind, and constructively gather thoughts that aid in overcoming. Prayer works too if it fits the person.
  • Have them lie on the floor and rest their legs up the wall.  Allows the racing heart to rest a bit.
  • Work on grounding exercises: 5,4,3,2,1 of the senses.  5 things you see, 4 you hear and so on.
  • Find a way, any way to make them laugh.  They might not actually laugh, but the feeling will help.
  • Get quiet.
  • Have them write, paint, or any other artistic outlet they are inclined to do.  Even if starts as scribbles, the focus will begin to shift.
  • If they want to be close, hold them.  Massage the tension in neck and shoulders.

Again, most importantly is your desire to help.  That alone speaks volumes! Stay.  Be a safe harbor.  Discuss things that help, and don't get offended if something you tried ends up hurting.  We know you are only trying to help, but if it is not helping, we need to know we can say that too.  There is no guide book or play strategies that will always work, but the attempt at some of these may do the trick.  They may also just open a line of discussion, and that is okay too.

Communicate and be compassionate.  I hope these help, I am here for ya!  I would love to hear anything else that works for you or a loved one.  Leave comments below for others too.

Sending out loads of love!