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Anxiety affects millions of people across the United States, and sometimes when we or others near us experience anxiety, a panic disorder, or other mental health disorders, it can be difficult to know what to do.
When we have a friend, loved one or even a co-worker experiencing anxiety disorders or panic attacks, it is normal to feel like you should do something. However, in the moment, that “something” can seem very elusive. What should you say? What should you do? How should you respond?
All these questions will run through your mind and they are valid. Unless you know the exact kind of anxiety the other person is going through, there’s a good chance that you may not even be able to relate to the situation.
However, that does not mean that you can not positively impact the situation. In fact, we are sure that you are capable of not only impacting the situation but doing so in a way that will reduce stress and anxiety.
When someone is anxious or distressed, the obvious and most important thing that you can be for them in that moment is calm and collected. This goes without saying for most people — however it is much easier said than done.
For instance, anxiety can almost have a contagious effect and it’s very normal to feel yourself being pulled toward a similar energy if you are around it. So, how do you remain calm in the midst of a storm? How do you maintain a collected state when someone else is falling apart?
In our opinion, it starts with understanding what anxiety actually is. Stress and anxiety for a long time has been mystified and has become a veritable boogeyman. This mystery has given it a power that it simply doesn’t have.
Anxiety, put simply, is when stress levels get a little out of hand. This stress can escalate beyond nervousness into feelings of doom, excessive worry, irritability, and frustration, or even physical symptoms like nausea, muscle tension, and chest pain. This gives us a powerful clue as to what anxiety is and how to actually help manage it.
If anxiety is the result of stress, then better understanding stress is paramount to helping someone overcome an anxious episode.
The first thing to understand is that stress itself is not bad. In fact, not only is it something that every single person on this planet deals with, it’s actually a very healthy thing — in its right context. However, a lot of the time, we associate anxiety with a build-up of stress that takes place outside of where it’s supposed to occur. For example, worry over future events that you have no control of at the time.
Stress is a vital part of our survival as a species. Our autonomic nervous system has two different branches: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. These branches deal with our stress pathways, including one called fight or flight, and another called our rest and digest pathways.
Without stress in our lives, we likely wouldn’t have survived as a species. Stress helps us understand threats and gives our minds and bodies the energy and clarity to deal with them. When we get anxious is when we allow natural stress to get to places it wasn’t intended to come into.
For instance, you want a natural, healthy level of stress when you take a hard exam. That stress will keep you on your toes, help you stay focused, and supply your brain with the nutrients it needs to stay vigilant. However, when you allow the stress of an exam to continue affecting you after you’ve taken it, when you can’t stop thinking about it and it affects your sleeping, eating, and everyday functions, stress becomes anxiety.
Now that you know a little more about what anxiety is and where it comes from, it can help to make sense of what the other person is going through. This knowledge of anxiety’s origin is crucial because it can help you understand what is truly going on with someone. This leads us to our first actual step in helping someone with anxiety:
Anxiety is caused by stress and stress is a good thing when it fulfills its purpose; so, this means that your first goal is to make sure a person’s anxiety is not actually warranted.
For instance, if this person is in actual danger or there is a real threat, then maybe their level of anxiety is completely appropriate and you also should respond accordingly. In instances of real danger like an emergency, maybe you need to vacate an area, seek medical help, or help that person leave a dangerous situation.
However, if imminent danger is not present, then finding out the origin of the anxiety is the first step. This is tricky business because it’s not a step that will necessarily solve anything right away, however it will give you the tools you need to better understand what the other person is going through.
There also may not be a tangible cause of the anxiety in the case of medical conditions like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Still, other anxiety sufferers may have clear triggers, such as social situations like phone calls from their boss leading to social anxiety, or even caffeine triggering panic-inducing symptoms.
Despite your assistance to help someone experiencing anxiety, a follow up with a healthcare provider who specializes in treating anxiety is highly recommended.
In order to know what’s going on, it will require asking the right questions and being very careful to listen. A lot of times an anxious person may not have the best use of logic and so piecing together a story from someone experiencing an anxiety attack may be difficult. This will require careful, open-minded listening. Don’t be afraid to point out inconsistencies either when parts of their story don’t make sense or if what is causing them anxiousness isn’t 100% rational.
Helping someone walk through the narrative of their anxiety-producing experience will help yourself and the other person understand what is really going on.
Just because you are listening doesn’t mean that you can’t also actively direct a person towards a sense of safety. This can be done through body language, facial expression, and vocal tone. Be careful to not give a subliminal message of judgment to someone who is anxious, even if you are unsure as to why they are experiencing anxiety.
Leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, or even, when appropriate, physical touch can go a long way to help someone feel safe enough to open up and talk about what’s going on. Vocal tone is also important. This doesn't mean that you cannot be firm, but it means that you should be careful to not be judgmental. When someone is experiencing anxiety, the feeling of being judged for their emotions can push them further into their crisis.
A lot of times, anxiety can occur when it is least practical. They can occur in settings that are not conducive to privacy or feelings of safety. These conditions, like having anxiety in public, can act to exacerbate anxiety. If the environment is a factor that can be manipulated, use it as a tool to help soothe the other person.
This may look like leading the other person away from crowded environments, or busy or loud places. If you are at work, it may look like stepping into an empty office or taking them outside for some fresh air.
Being able to bring the other person intentionally into an environment that is more calm and peaceable can have strong calming effects and enforce feelings of safety.
Giving your friend a gift like stress support supplements that are formulated with active botanical ingredients, can also have a calming effect. Not only does a gift express care and love, but supplements can be a safe, healthy option for stress support.
Our Calm Capsule is specifically engineered with ingredients that can help encourage stress support and minimize occasional episodes of anxiety. Always be sure to double-check that the other person has no active allergies and that there are no health concerns that should be taken up with their doctor before giving them an over-the-counter stress relief supplement. Supplements are not a substitute. If anxious feelings continue to persist. It is recommended to seek help from a healthcare professional.
In conclusion, if you are trying to help someone with anxiety, remembering to remain calm, be good at listening, and understanding their situation will go a long way.
People experience anxiety every day, but if a family member or loved one experiences intense anxiety regularly, it may be time to visit a therapist or psychologist. Beyond your individual love and support, medical advice in the form of talk therapy sessions, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or a prescription medication from a clinical psychologist or other medical provider can go a long way.
Lifestyle changes like giving up alcohol and caffeine, making time for regular exercise, or calming techniques like deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation can also help alleviate different symptoms as they work towards a diagnosis. Never underestimate the power of self-help, or of a strong and empathetic support system.