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What do you say (don't you say) when your friend has anxiety disorder or panic attacks?

What do you say (don't you say) when your friend has anxiety disorder or panic attacks?

Medically reviewed by Jeevika Yu, written by Carl Lee. Reading Time: 6 minutes

If your friend has anxiety disorder or panic attack, do you know how to do?

Suppose you haven't experienced an acute anxiety attack (i.e., a panic attack). In that case, you may not be able to understand precisely what a person's body feels during panic attacks. Then you can learn about the symptoms of panic attacks.

People with panic disorder often experience brief but intense panic attacks, usually accompanied by tremors, dizziness, nausea, or difficulty breathing.

For example:

  • Drinking water too fast. Having the feeling of choking on the trachea.
  • The feeling of suffocation or not being able to breathe.
  • The feeling of not being able to live well with a heavyweight on the chest.
  • Having a lot of ideas that come to your mind quickly and cyclically.
  • You think you're going to die, but in fact, nothing is wrong.
  • Sweating and nauseous feeling.

Do only a small number of people have anxiety disorders? No.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 40 million people in the United States between 18 and 54 have anxiety disorder. Even if you don't have anxiety disorder, someone close to you may suffer from anxiety disorder.

What you can do to help the person who has panic attacks is to be compassionate.

You can offer to take them to a comfortable place, away from their sensitive areas. You can distract them with a funny story or something they enjoy but not evoke destructive emotions. Bringing up something related to their deceased loved one, even as a joke, can lead to worse situations.

If you don't say the right things to them, you will not only fail to help them but may even cause trouble or harm. But don't worry, here are some ways to guide you to learn how to help them.

1. Don't say: "Take it easy."

I appreciate your efforts, but telling me to "take it easy" has the exact opposite effect. You can say, "Can I help you right now?" and run to the store to get a paper bag to help them breathe.

Breathing into a paper bag:

During a panic attack, especially if it is accompanied by shortness of breath, gasping for air or feeling short of breath, or tingling in the arms and legs, find a paper bag. Tear off a corner of the bottom end of the paper bag. 

Put the opening on one side of the paper bag over your mouth and nose and breathe. When the panic attack ends, or the tingling disappears, you can put down the paper bag. If you do not have a paper bag on hand, a rugged plastic bag will work. 

If you can't find any bags, use your hands together. Covering the mouth and nose to breathe can also be slightly more effective.

2. Don't say: "Everything will be fine."

By the way, there is nothing wrong with this statement. Indeed, most of the time, everything will be fine. But during a person's panic attack, these words will only make them feel perfunctory.

You can say: "Whatever happens, we can figure out how to make it right together."

Facing it together with people with anxiety disorder or panic attacks can be a great help and support.

3. Don’t say: "Don’t overthink things."

People with anxiety disorder are prone to rumination when they are anxious, which is caused by the symptoms of the disease. This statement can aggravate their psychological burden.

You can say, "If you want to talk about something that's bothering you, I'm willing to listen." Understanding them and listening to their thoughts can ease his anxiety.

4. Don’t say: "I know how you feel."

Maybe you understand how they feel. But in most cases, that may not be the case. Even those who suffer from anxiety may not know a complete feeling because anxiety has a wide range of symptoms and varies from person to person.

You can say, "I wish I could understand how you feel, but the truth is I probably can't relate. But I respect your feelings. If there is something I can do to make you feel better, I will do my best."

It's okay to say that! Letting them know that you are willing to help will make them feel helpful and supported.

5. Don’t say: "You are nothing. Many people encounter much greater difficulties than you."

During anxiety attacks, people with anxiety disorder can become absorbed in their world, and this reminder can make them feel guilty.

On the contrary, you are better off not saying anything. I'd instead you stay quiet and not tell me who's worse off. Because for me, the current predicament is terrible enough.

6. Don’t say: "You have many things to be thankful for."

Perhaps there are many happy things in our life. But some things may be what they are worried about. Even the thought of losing everyone they love, or even a blade of grass, can send them into a panic.

Instead, you can say, "Try to see it from a larger perspective."

We can tell them that they live in a whole world, and there are many good things in this world.

7. Don’t say: "Would you like a drink?"

If you say these words, it will make the situation worse. Some people will drink to drown their sorrows, which can make the condition worse. Don't suggest drinking to drown our sorrows because the person will probably not refuse, which might harm someone else.

You can say, "Would you like something to eat?" which is an excellent opportunity to be distracted by people, music, or food and a perfect opportunity to chat.

8. Don’t say: "You are so annoying!"

It is insulting and inconsiderate to say these things to a person when they are in pain. The anxious person has a more challenging time than you are.

You can say, "I wish I knew what I could do to make you feel better. If there is anything I can do, just let me know! "

In a time of crisis for people with anxiety disorder, knowing that someone is there to help means everything!

9. Don’t say: "I'm going to leave you some alone time. I’m going to leave."

When you leave your friend alone, it only makes them feel lonely. Especially in public, don't leave your panicked friend alone. They need your support. If you don't know how to handle the situation, the best thing to do is ask the person what they need you to do.

You can say, "Do you want me to stay? If there's anything I can do to make you feel better, I'll try to do it."

Because sometimes they do want time alone, but they also don't want to be left behind in a hurry by someone else. So asking the other person what they wish to becomes a great way to communicate and start a conversation.

There are also many ways to guide you in dealing with friends who have anxiety disorders around you. If you have better ideas, you can also leave your valuable suggestions in the comments section!

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