What to Say When Someone is Having an Anxiety Attack

Health Writer

Suppose a friend or family member suffers from anxiety. You want to be supportive, you have learned how anxiety impacts their life, but you still don't know what to say or do when an anxiety attack strikes. A while back, Merely Me posted Top Ten Things Not to Say to Someone Who Suffers From Anxiety to help you know what you should avoid. Today, I am providing some suggestions on what you can say to help. Remember, understanding and listening, without judgment, is the first step to helping someone through an anxiety or panic attack.

"Your fears/worries are understandable." Individuals with anxiety often worry incessantly or become excessively fearful of things or situations that may not seem scary to others, such as being in a crowd or having to eat in front of someone. No matter how you may feel about the fear/worry, remember, to your friend or relative, this fear is real. Rather than brush the fear off and say, "Stop worrying about that," or "There's nothing to be afraid of," validate their fear.

"I am here for you." Just like anyone going through a difficult time, your friend or relative needs to hear that you are there no matter what. You will hold their hand, stand by them and be supportive. Knowing someone is there and he or she is not alone can help reduce feelings of anxiety.

"What would you like me to do to help?" Instead of assuming you know the right thing to say or do, ask your friend or relative, ask what you can do to help. He or she may want to help by talking about something else to help keep their mind occupied or may want you to find something to do, unrelated to the situation causing anxiety. Before pushing your ideas, ask what will best help.

"This too shall pass." This may be a tricky one because reminding your friend or relative that anxiety attacks are temporary may end up sounding as if you are trivializing their feelings. Stay calm and be supportive, saying, "You can get through this, it will all be over soon."   Remind them that they aren't going to die, that they will keep breathing, that they are not having a heart attack.

"What strategies best help you when you are feeling anxious?" During a panic attack, anxiety sufferers may not remember what to do, such as taking deep breaths, focusing on each breathe. Or he or she may forget that taking an anti-anxiety medication will help. Asking what normally helps can remind them of what to do. Then help him or her take the needed steps to calm the attack.

"We can get through this together." Knowing someone is there to help can be a big relief. You may want to put a hand on their arm or shoulder, letting your friend or relative know he is not alone. Facing fears is always easier when you have someone to face them with.

These statements may help during an anxiety or panic attack. You may also want to take some time to talk to your friend or relative when they are not having an attack. What does he or she feel? What types of techniques help? What situations or things trigger an attack? What is going on in your life that makes you anxious? Although many people experience similar symptoms during a panic attack, anxiety, like all illnesses, is unique in each individual. Each individual has personal triggers and unique ways of coping with anxiety. Finding out, asking questions and being interested - at a time when not filled with anxiety - can help you better understand what is happening during a panic attack.