Supporting a loved one through anxiety and panic attacks is both a noble and complicated undertaking. These attacks can feel very intense, and it can be difficult to know how to help. However, support is essential through these challenging events. Even while anxiety and panic can feel like isolating experiences, overcoming these disorders and emerging safely can be a communal effort. Proper, educated support systems can help further reinforce the benefits of effective assistance.
How Anxiety and Panic Affect Perception
One of the most difficult parts of helping a loved one through an anxiety or panic attack is understanding how their perception of their environment may change during an occurrence. Intense levels of stress can cause hypervigilance, and an individual can suddenly begin to see their environment in a negative, even threatening manner. This can make even the most familiar of settings suddenly seem foreign. As a result, it can be very difficult to tell what may be perceived as a threat during this time. It is important to take measures to establish oneself as a non-threatening figure in an otherwise threatening and hostile world.
While panic attacks typically last from ten to 30 minutes, anxiety attacks can continue until the stressors are addressed, or an individual employs grounding techniques. Supporting an individual through this time can be an intense experience for all involved and requires a practiced, set plan to know how best to act in these circumstances.
Each individual will experience anxiety and panic in their own unique way. However, there are general guidelines that can be used and built upon to fit each unique person. It will be up to those suffering from anxiety and panic and their supports to adopt specific strategies into their plans. These guidelines are:
- Make Presence Known: Those suffering from an anxiety or panic attack will have an altered view of reality through the duration of the attack. Their minds may be on overload trying to process their environment and various stimuli, and it can be challenging to focus. It is essential first to make one’s presence known safely. When approaching an individual suffering from these kinds of attacks, take all measures to ensure that one does not inadvertently take them by surprise, as this can add an even greater sense of danger to one’s environment. Instead, approach within line of sight and move slowly, providing time to process one’s presence as a supportive figure.
- Use Soft Voice: Sound is an incredibly overpowering stimulus, and sudden loud noises can further a sense of anxiety. Speaking softly can help calm one’s perception of the environment and better move towards effective grounding strategies.
- Don’t Make Assumptions: It can be impossible to know exactly what one is thinking while experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. Do not assume a person’s needs or take action without first considering the individual experiencing the attack. Always ask before taking action to mitigate any undesired perceptions. Acting without informing others can lead to misinterpretations of one’s intent, adding additional stress to an already fraught environment.
- Ask Simple Questions: Keeping questions direct and simple can increase the chances of receiving a helpful answer. Anxiety and panic can make it incredibly difficult to focus on one thing for too long. Keeping questions short allows an individual suffering from one of these attacks to answer in a short time frame. “Yes or no” questions can be very beneficial here, and it can be more helpful to practice asking the question in one’s head to ensure that it is short and devoid of any filler sounds, such as “umm’s.”
- Do Not Blame: It can be impossible to know how panic truly affects a person’s mind, and what may seem like irrational behavior may make perfect sense in another’s altered sense of reality. While it is crucial to help keep an individual safe, it is also important not to judge a person for what they may say or do in this distressed state.
- Scaffold Effective Breathing or Counting: Practicing and modeling effective grounding strategies can help aid in these situations. Employing breathing techniques can model these strategies and make them easier to utilize, even while under the distress of anxiety or panic. Counting slowing with the person or modeling taking deep breaths and asking them to join your process can be an effective way to help ground a person long enough for their perception to begin reestablishing itself in reality.
Each individual will experience anxiety or panic slightly differently, and some strategies may be more effective than others. However, reaching out with these techniques can help make a person more receptive to more personalized approaches to anxiety or panic while avoiding additional stresses and keeping a person safe through this challenging experience.
Anxiety and panic disorders are serious issues, and it is essential to find the right help and support to make it through difficult episodes. If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, panic, depression, or addiction and are ready to begin taking control of your future, Avalon Malibu can help you today. With a comprehensive array of programs, such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, music therapy, and more, our supportive staff of professionals is ready to help you better understand the trials that you face every day. They will work with you to find your best coping mechanisms and strategies for a changed future. Our beautiful, open atmosphere can further help you detach from unnecessary stresses and focus on your recovery and transformation among like-minded peers. For more information on the various programs that we offer, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your unique situation, call us today at (844) 857-5992.