As someone who has suffered with Anxiety Disorder for many years, it's safe to say that I've learned a lot.
Anxiety comes at the worst times, and even worse than that, it comes unexpectedly and for no reason at all. Having anxiety isn't easy, especially because a lot of people don't actually understand what it's like or what's going on; they can try to sympathize and try to help, but no two anxiety attacks are the same, and no two people are the same.
Sometimes I need to be completely alone. Sometimes I need someone there just sitting in the room. Sometimes I need to punch something, and sometimes I need to just focus on my breathing. No matter what, it always puts my life and my day on pause for a few minutes. And often times, it comes with embarrassment — yes, I'm embarrassed to be freaking out for no reason; this isn't "just for attention."
So if a friend or a loved one has an anxiety attack around you, there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Everyone is different
Everyone experiences different symptoms for their anxiety attacks. Everyone needs different kinds of support. Everybody needs something different. So just because your way of helping worked miracles for one person, doesn't mean it can't make things worse for somebody else. Along with that, each anxiety attack is different, so treat them as such.
2. Give me space but not too much space
I might ask you to get out of the room, but just step outside — don't just actually leave; I may want you around two minutes later because my needs change minute by minute. Don't overcrowd me; if I ask you to leave, please just do so, because the presence of somebody may make things worse.
3. Let me decide how to handle it
Sometimes I need somebody around, sometimes I want to be alone. Sometimes I need you to tell me random life stories while I sit and listen, and sometimes I just need you to listen to me and not say a word. Sometimes I need my back-rubbed in silence and sometimes I need to punch a pillow. Don't tell me how to solve it — I know my body best. Just go with the flow.
4. Don't tell me "there's nothing to worry about"
Because half the damn time, I know there's nothing to worry about. BUT, that's not going to make it go away.
5. Keep it silent
Most of the time, I just need a presence in the room while I lay completely silent focusing on my breathing. Having you around makes me feel like there's someone there if I need them, without feeling suffocated. The secret is silence, and most of the time it's a good time for you to do some thinking of your own.
6. Know my irritability is not towards you
Anxiety causes irritability, even when we don't realize it. We do our best to not let it show and to not take it out on anybody, because we know damn well it's not their fault. Don't take it personally. I promise you'll get an apology right after. And DON'T hold it over me later on.
7. I'll feel ashamed after
Ashamed, embarrassed, guilty. Knowing I put somebody through that mess is rough on me, and usually gives me more anxiety about thinking they're going to hate me. I'm going to apologize over and over again, even weeks after. Let me apologize and just accept it. Don't beg that I did nothing wrong, because I'll feel even more guilty. Just say, "Okay."
8. Listen don't talk
Just listen. Sometimes we just need an ear, an ear that doesn't form a response. This goes with keeping it silent and letting me decide the course of action. On the contrary, sometimes I just need to hear your voice, your story, your laugh, while I sit in silence so I can forget about my problem. Like I said before, just roll with it.
9. Don't make a big scene
If someone comes up and asks what's going on, let me respond. Usually, my response is, "Oh, I'm just super tired," or "I'm just having a bad day, give me a few minutes and I'll be over it, haha" or something nonchalant so other people don't know what's going on. Don't add on, don't interject, and don't tell them later what's going on — just roll with it. I don't need the whole world talking about it, because word gets around fast. If words don't come out of my mouth, use one of those excuses — buy-able yet nonchalant. I will talk about it when I am ready.
For all the friends, loved ones, and strangers, that have been there to support someone suffering with anxiety, there aren't enough thank you's out there for you. We know it's not easy, we know it can be jarring but your love and support makes life a little easier. Thank you, over and over again.