What is anxiety like?
Your stomach clenches and your heart begins to pound. You feel lightheaded and your skin turns clammy. Fear. Stress. Anxiety. We are all familiar with it. However, to some, anxiety is more than a passing feeling. It lives in your bones. You internalize fear and worry until it consumes you, mind and body. In today’s era, anxiety has become an epidemic. I deal with this daily, so trust me when I say I understand. It is exhausting to constantly be at war with your own thoughts. Adrenaline pumps through your veins at random times. Everyone mentions the clichés. “Calm down.” “Deep breaths.” “What triggered the attack this time?”
Telling someone to calm down does very little to help. In my own experience, it only makes me further agitated. I want to calm down, though it will not happen in a matter of seconds! Deep breaths are a great idea if you can manage to gain control of your spasming lungs. Hyperventilation is a typical bodily response when enduring a panic attack. It can be very difficult to guide oxygen in and out of your body at a normal pace when it seems as if all of the air has been sucked out of the room. Finally, if I always knew what was going to trigger an attack, it would make sense that I would avoid it. The truth of the matter is that anything can cause an increase in stress at any given moment. These stereotypical responses do little to quell the enormous amounts of adrenaline coursing through your body during an episode.
How can I help?
If you know of someone who suffers with anxiety, I advise you not to try to help them with clichés, but instead ask them what they would like you to do. Would they like you to sit next to them in silence until their breathing is back to normal just so they know they have someone to depend on? Would they like to be alone? Sometimes the stress of a group or even the eyes of one person while going through something that shows so much vulnerability is too much. Maybe they would like a hug? The presence of a friend can be just the thing to ground the person going through the anxiety attack so that it may pass. It is important to remember that anxiety is a mental health issue, and like mental health, it manifests differently in every person. What a person may require to ground them during a time of anxiety is unique to them.
Instead of spouting platitudinous statements, take the time to learn what your friend or loved one needs to surpass this trial. Anxiety can often feel like the end of the world. Perhaps you can be the one standing on the edge of the ocean, ready to catch them if they fall.
Dealing with or know someone who deals with anxiety? Here are some resources from the ADAA.
Read this article from another GirlSpring contributor for tips on soothing anxiety.