Caring for Loved Ones with Anxiety Attacks

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Comforting

Caring for loved ones with anxiety attacks can be difficult and exhausting. Going through an anxiety attack is a frightening experience not only for the sufferer but also for loved ones witnessing the overwhelming fear and dread the person is going through.

Caring for Loved Ones with Anxiety Attacks

Understanding how to care for someone who has anxiety attacks can help you stay calm and be as supportive as possible during an attack. While you may not be able to handle each episode perfectly, doing the best you can will be good enough in helping your loved one.

The following are ways to help your loved one before and after an anxiety attack.

What to Do Before an Anxiety Attack

Panic attacks typically appear without warning, but you can take steps that may help prevent some episodes from occurring.

Share Relaxation Techniques

Practice relaxation techniques to learn which ones she finds the most effective in lowering her anxiety. Have her pay attention to not only mood but also physiological processes. Ask if her muscles are relaxed and if her breathing is slow and steady. Ideas for relaxation techniques include stress relievers, and you can learn how to teach stress management to provide support and guidance.

Help Person Avoid Triggers

Talk about triggers associated with her anxiety attacks. This way, you can help her avoid them. For example, if bridges make her anxious, try to avoid driving over them and instead take an alternative route. Alternatively, if there is no way to avoid a trigger, you and her can start practicing relaxation techniques while going over the bridge to prevent an anxiety attack. If there is a specific trigger that consistently brings on episodes, it may be necessary to talk to a physician about phobias.

Learn Signs that an Attack Is Starting

Relaxation techniques are much more effective if you can start them at the first sign of an attack. Together with your loved one, talk about the signs that an episode is about to begin so you can both look out for them. When you or she notices the signs, you can remind her to do them and do the relaxation techniques with her.

Support Treatment

Encourage your loved one to seek treatment and follow through with counseling or medication consultation appointments. Don't be overbearing or insist that you join her at appointments, just be supportive and listen to her if she wants to talk about it.

Don't Minimize the Problem

Anxiety attacks are real reactions to perceived threats. Her mind really thinks something is going to hurt her and she is genuinely frightened. In addition, the body has psychical responses to the intense fear, which can exacerbate the situation. It helps to recognize that the person going through the attack has heart palpitations and difficulty breathing, which can make her feel as if she is going to die.

Empathize with her and provide sympathy. She needs to feel that you understand and that she can trust you when her body and mind are out of control.

Get Professional Help

A person who consistently suffers from panic attacks needs professional help. Getting a proper diagnosis can lead to getting the right treatment. The National Institutes of Health offers resources that can help you locate services and get the professional guidance necessary for diagnosis and treatment for panic disorder.

How to Care for Your Loved One During an Anxiety Attack

Remain Calm

When your loved one is in the midst of an anxiety attack, she is terrified. If you also show that you are scared, the person will become even more upset because you are confirming her perceived threat. Take a deep breath and if possible, comfort the sufferer and repeat, "Everything is going to be okay…there is nothing to be afraid of…this will pass soon."

Your loved one may not seem as though she is listening because of her preoccupation with physiological responses and racing thoughts. However, the soothing calmness of your voice will help her mind and body realize there may not be a threat present after all.

Remove Anything That May Hurt Your Loved One

Your loved one may thrash or fall off a bed or couch during an attack. It's best to move any objects that she may fall onto that could hurt her. Provide a pillow for comfort if she is on the floor.

Coach Her Through Relaxation Techniques

It can be difficult to remember to use the relaxation techniques when in a heightened state of anxiety. While your loved one is having an anxiety attack, remind her of the most effective relaxation techniques and do them with her. This will help you stay calm and help her move through the attack much quicker and easier.

Think About What You Would Want

When caring for loved ones with anxiety attacks, think about a time when you were very afraid of something. What is it that you would want a loved one to do for you? Think about this often and remember to treat your loved one as you would of wanted to be treated in that time.

Caring for Loved Ones with Anxiety Attacks