Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How to Help: Anxiety

I’m no doctor or physiatrist, but I have been around the block a few times.  I know people with anxiety disorders and have one myself.  In this post I will focus on how to help someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.  I understand that not everyone’s anxiety is the same, but this is how I would like to be helped and maybe it could work for your friends as well. 

1.      Get familiar with the subject.  Sure, people have heard of anxiety, but they don’t always have a solid understanding of what it actually is or how much it hurts.  Know that what they are anxious about might be insignificant and irrational but it does not make it any less real for them.  Try this site

2.      Help them do the small things.  Sometimes, the littlest things cause the most anxiety.  Take signing up for a road test for instance.  The fact that they’re setting a date for something big and important is very nerve-wracking.  Offer to sit down and do it with them.  It just helps to have someone by their side. 

3.      Some people have very high anxiety and even get anxiety attacks.  If this is the case, there will be many times that your friend feels like his or her chest will explode from the beating of her heart or he or she will sweat her hands clean out of water.  They will know the pattern their anxiety follows and when they feel it coming on, it is important for them to get away from the situation, mentally or physically. Help them to design an effective get-away plan for their safety.  This escape can either be physical or mental.

a.       Physical escape:  When your friend feels intense anxiety building up, she should physically remove herself from the situation.  This girl, who talks about her anxiety via vlog, likes to get away from her anxiety by driving.  However, for people in school or at work, driving away is not at all possible.  My personal plan has been to walk to my mom’s room to get some pretzels.  Your friend could keep something in her locker to eat.  The key to physical escape is helping your friend to convince herself that once she gets to that ‘safe’ place (her locker, the bathroom, etc.) and distracts herself (by eating, texting, etc.) her anxiety will be gone. Your job in this situation can either be to accompany your friend or cover for her. 

b.      Mental escape: Sometimes, physical escape is just not possible, like in the middle of a test, lecture, or gym class game. In this case, it is important to keep the brain occupied on anything but the anxiety. A game I like to use is the random word game to play it, think of a random word. Allow that word to remind you of another word. And that new word to make you think of another word.  So on and so forth, (example: shark, water, blue, red, fire truck, toy, Christmas, Easter bunny, eggs, chocolate cake, etc.) His thoughts will start flowing from one word to another and allow no room for anxiety.  Once he hits a word that triggers his anxiety, he should stop immediately and start over.

4.      If your friend did not escape the bad situation in time, you may have to help talk him through an anxiety attack.  This is the honestly one of the best and most helpful articles out there and I highly recommend you print it out for your anxious friend. Unless you suspect that one are the one who triggered your friend’s anxiety, stay with him and keep the positive thoughts flowing. 

5.      Anxiety is like a spectrum.  High anxiety and panic attacks are on the right side, and on the left, is lesser to moderate anxiety.  This type of anxiety, unlike panic attacks, last for much longer (days, weeks, months). To help your friend with this, familiarize her with breathing techniques. Check out this site for more information
6.      She can also try tensing and releasing her muscles one by one to relax her body as well. Another technique I’ve learned and utilize quite frequently is tapping.  Be it my thumb and middle finger together or just a finger on my leg or arm.  Your friend could also try this.  I believe this works because it had a certain rhythm to it.  Rocking back and forth and pacing also works, but that is general frowned upon in school settings : )

7.      Make something for her, like a bracelet, to wear to keep with it so she can play with it and look at it when feeling anxious to help her remember that she has someone on her side. 

8.      Create a chart with him.  On one side of the chart, he will write down what makes him feel anxious.  On the other side of the chart he will decide what he will do to combat the feelings, where it is coping techniques, a decision to face it with you, or avoid the situation all together.

9.      Encourage her to spend ten minutes at the beginning and end of each day just breathing, stretching, meditating or doing yoga.  This has done wonders for me in terms to reminding myself how to relax on busy weekdays. 

10.  Remind your friend to get enough exercise to ensure he is releasing his stress in a positive manor.  Healthy eating also plays a role.  He should be eating every four hours and avoiding foods with high sugar and fat content.  Check out this article for more information on healthy eating and anxiety.

11.  Insure your friend that if she should go on medication it would not make you think any less of her.  This option is obviously for her and her doctor and family to discuss, but regardless of the decision, be there for her. 

12.  Mostly though, be there for your friend.  I cannot tell you how good it feels to be able to make eye contacts with a trusted friend during class when anxiety sets in and knowing someone understands what is happening and will be there if needed.

As always, feel free to correct me if you feel I have inaccurately reflected anxiety in any way, shape, or form, and comment below if you have any tips of your own you would like to share. 

I do have an additional how-to-help on anxiety for you.  This one is on Trichotillomania, an anxiety disorder where people pull out their hair.  I just have to find it somewhere, but will upload it asap.

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