All or almost all of us have felt anxious at some point in our lives. Thus, we know that this state of discomfort, restlessness, hyperarousal and nervousness is highly punitive and aversive, and is generally something we do not want to experience.
Now, getting out of a state of anxiety may not be as easy as it seems. In fact, it is something complicated, especially if what it gives us is an anxiety attack. Let’s imagine now that the one who suffers it is not us, but another person who matters to us. What can we do? How to help a person with anxiety? Let’s talk about it throughout this article full of tips to keep in mind.
Anxiety: what is it?
In order to think about how to help a person with anxiety, we must first know and understand the type of situation they are going through. And that is why a brief explanation of what anxiety is can be useful.
We give the name of anxiety to a state of deep subjective discomfort of emotional origin characterized by the presence of strong negative affect together with a high level of physiological activity or arousal, which in turn has an effect on behavior.
We are facing a state that is usually defined as an apprehensive reaction that appears without the need for a current threatening situation to exist, but that does tends to be linked to anticipation of a future threat or spillover or inability to face environmental demands, even though they are not always aware of their origin.
It is important to take into account that in anxiety there is an interaction between a subjective or cognitive-emotional component, which allows us to perceive emotions and the state of discomfort, a biological or physiological component in which emotional involvement generates a series of physical symptoms (the most common being palpitations, tachycardia and increased respiratory rate, although there may be others such as pain, dry mouth, sweating or tremors) and finally a behavioral component that includes the set of actions that are carried out in said state. .
The existence of a certain level of stress and anxiety is common in our society, but the truth is that anxiety can often rise to such an extent that it can overwhelm us, sometimes even surprisingly and without prior warning. . This is the case of what happens to us when we have an anxiety crisis.
In these crises, great discomfort suddenly arises and panic appears along with palpitations and tachycardia, choking sensation and hyperventilation, abdominal or chest pain, dizzinesssweating, tremors, feeling like you are having a heart attack, dying, going crazy or losing control of your own body.
It is also common for a feeling of strangeness and unreality to appear, known as depersonalization.
For this reason, when helping a person with anxiety who is going through a stage with frequent crises, it is important to know that you have to intervene both during these and when they are not occurring, to prevent them.
Anxiety and disorders derived from it
Anxiety is not an uncommon emotion or reaction. In fact, most people have felt some degree of anxiety throughout their lives, and a high percentage of the world population has experienced or will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives.
It is not per se pathological, but sometimes the persistence of anxiety or its repeated appearance, whether or not linked to some type of situation or stimulation, can become a highly disabling disorder. And in fact, the group of anxiety disorders is the most frequent type of disorder that exists, along with major depression.
There are many anxiety disorders, but probably the best known are panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
In the first, the subject repeatedly suffers several episodes of anxiety crises, which generates the appearance of anticipatory anxiety in the face of the possible appearance of a new crisis, which generally leads him to change his way of life and even to avoid exposing yourself to habitual situations in which you think you might experience them again.
In generalized anxiety disorder, symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, irritability, tension, sleep problems, and inability to relax arise from anxiety about worries about multiple aspects of life or even about anxiety. an ongoing non-specific and general concern.
In addition to these, other disorders such as the group of phobias are also linked to anxiety, as well as other disorders such as obsessive disorders.
Also in depression, bipolar disorder or acute stress disorders or post-traumatic stress is also common. fact anxiety It is usually common in multiple psychiatric and psychological problems.
How to help in case of an anxiety crisis
As can be imagined from his description, the anxiety or anguish attack is a very disabling phenomenon and tends to focus the attention of the sufferer on the symptoms themselves. Likewise, it is easy for the symptoms to be confused with those of a heart problem, something that makes you live with great fear.
Helping a person in this situation is not easy when we are already immersed in italthough it is possible. How to do it?
The way to help would be to try to reduce the focus on discomfort or reduce some of the more controllable physiological symptoms, such as breathing. Likewise, it must be remembered that anxiety attacks They are usually relatively short in duration, a few minutes long.So they end up disappearing on their own.
Next we will see some small indications to take into account if we find someone in the middle of an anxiety crisis. Of course, it is important to take into account that first of all it must be ruled out that it is a true heart attack.
1. Don’t tell him to calm down
It is relatively frequent that when a person enters a panic attack or an anxiety attack, others do not know how to react. In this sense, it is common for them to try to tell you to calm down.
These types of instructions are completely counterproductive.: if the person could calm down just by wanting it, they would do it immediately and they would not be going through the crisis. Thus, encouraging a person with anxiety to try to block out that feeling leads them to become even more frustrated that they cannot immediately eliminate that kind of mental content.
In addition, it can add to the burden or tension that you may feel from feeling recriminated for not being able to get out of the situation. The reaction is probably not positive, since it increases nervousness and the feeling of being overwhelmed and drowning.
2. Give him space, but offer your help
The person who is suffering from an anxiety attack generally You will feel more secure if you feel that there is someone nearby who can help you. and serve you at that time.
However, it is necessary that you have a certain space, in the sense that it is not convenient for a large number of people to gather around you as it makes it easier to get even more nervous (something that can happen, for example, if it gives us on the street).
3. Help him focus on a fixed stimulus other than his sensations of choking or suffering
Whoever suffers an anxiety attack is experiencing a series of very intense symptoms on which they usually focus their attention.
One way to help them would be to try to get them to focus on some kind of different stimulus. In this sense, it may be helpful to try to get them to maintain eye contact with you, and help them focus their attention in aspects such as your own breathing in order to imitate it.
You can also try to distract them in other ways, such as by talking to them so that they focus on what you are saying instead of the symptoms, although this may not work.
4. Try to help him take deeper breaths
One of the strategies that can be useful to help a person in the middle of an anxiety crisis is to help her control her breathing, since in these crises one of the main symptoms is the existence of hyperventilation.
In this sense, it can be useful to try to make the other person pay attention to you and try to take a deep breath, both inhalation and exhalation. If available, it may also help to use a paper bag so that you can concentrate on filling and emptying it.
5. Don’t panic
Living through an anxiety attack is not exactly pleasant and generates a great deal of suffering, to the point that the person may feel like they are dying or losing their mind. In this circumstance, having someone next to you who reacts with panic and nervousness and without knowing what to do when faced with what is happening can increase your own anxiety.
That is why it is necessary try to remain calm and act decisivelyso that the other’s way of acting is a calming stimulus for the one who has the attack.
6. Speak clearly and in a calm voice
Despite the fact that the person in the middle of an anxiety crisis may react with some hostility, the truth is that the fact that they speak to them with a firm and calm voice and a clear manner can help lower arousal levelespecially if you are processing and I understand what we are saying.
7. Remind him that anxiety ends up passing
This point is only applicable if the person has already had other anxiety attacks before. It is about trying to remind them that despite the fact that the sensations are very intense and aversive, these crises are not life-threatening and little by little your symptoms will disappear.
Of course, you always have to assess that it is really an anxiety crisis, since we could be facing another type of problem.
How to help people with anxiety (whether or not they suffer from a disorder)
Supporting someone who is feeling a certain level of anxiety requires an appropriate approach to their situation. In the first place, it is necessary to assess whether there is a reason for this emotional reaction, in order to be able to act little by little to reduce their level of tension. In this sense we can make some recommendations.
1. Encourage him to communicate his feelings
Very often sensations and emotions considered negative, such as sadness or anxiety, tend to be hidden or little expressed. A good way to reduce the level of tension of those who are anxious is allow this emotion to express itself in some way. In this sense, it can be useful to talk to him or her about her situation.
2. Expressive and energy-releasing activities
Probably when we have been anxious one of the ways to reduce this discomfort has been to do something that allows us to vent. This can also help others to do it.
Among the different activities to be carried out, those that allow us to truly discharge our instincts stand out, such as carrying out exercises, practicing boxing, singing, shouting or dancing. It can also be useful to write or paint, if possible avoiding excessive rationalization but letting things arise and flow naturally.
3. Help him assess his concerns
There are many aspects of our lives that can cause us anxiety. However, sometimes the focus on these aspects can become extremely maladaptive and prevent us from functioning normatively. It may be useful to contribute to make you appreciate your concerns, as well as the way you relate to them and how they affect you.
It is important not to do this critically or by diminishing the importance of your thoughts (since, after all, if they generate anxiety it is because you care about them), but rather reflectively and proposing whether worry or avoidance of situations is really an advantage or a handicap in your day to day.
4. Propose alternative interpretations
Another aspect that can be useful and that in fact is used in therapy is to suggest seeking alternative interpretations of our thoughts and concerns, as well as possible disturbing thoughts that are dysfunctional or especially limiting.
5. Use relaxation techniques
One of the most common techniques in regards to anxiety are relaxation techniques, among which breathing techniques and muscle relaxation techniques stand out.
These types of techniques allow us to focus attention on certain sensations, or get used to going from states of tension to others of relaxationin such a way that the possibility of suffering a crisis is reduced and prevented while at the same time it is possible to reduce nervous activity and calm the body and mind.
In this sense, it is possible to indicate the possibility of carrying out some variant of this type of technique, even in a group.
6. Mindfulness: Full attention
Although mindfulness seems to be the umpteenth fashion when it comes to meditation practices of Eastern origin, the truth is that this technique has been shown to have very beneficial effects in the treatment of anxiety.
Often misnamed relaxation technique, what is intended with this type of methodology is to focus on the here and now, as well as observing our thoughts and sensations and allowing them to flow without judging them. It is very helpful in helping someone with anxiety, and it doesn’t take much time to learn the basics.
7. Recommend professional help
In the event that we are facing an anxiety disorder, these recommendations may fall somewhat short and it is usually advisable to seek professional help. In this sense it may be a good idea try to help find a psychologist or recommend doing sosince many people may not dare to take the plunge.
Throughout the psychotherapy processes, psycho-emotional skills and the generation of habits necessary to better regulate anxiety processes are worked on. For example, the patient is trained in relaxation techniques, they are helped to get used to certain stressful situations, they are helped to adopt a constructive mentality that does not feed fear, etc. In this way, in a matter of a few months important changes are achieved for the better.