I woke up this morning to my phone chiming.
I checked my email and as soon as I read the first one, my anxiety kicked in. My mind began to trip over itself imagining all the ways that this particular announcement could hurt me. I then began to imagine all the ways that people in my recent past have hurt me on purpose and before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face. Even though I knew that I was having an anxiety attack, it still affected me and I tried to remember that my fears aren’t real, right NOW I am okay and no matter what happens, I will not break.
Then I looked around nervously hoping my roommate hadn’t seen me crying, clutching my chest and murmuring to myself. Then I cried silently as I wished that people would react differently to my issue.
The last time I had an anxiety attack around someone, he asked me what was wrong with me because I kept repeating my trigger phrase (a phrase I repeat over and over without being able to stop until my anxiety attack has subsided). This trigger phrase lets me know my anxiety has been triggered and since I can’t stop myself from repeating this phrase over and over again, it is quite embarrassing if it happens in front of people.
My trigger phrase is- “I’m sorry” I also say, “I Love You” and “She’s a good person.”
What can you do when a friend is having an anxiety attack in front of you?
Don’t – Say STOP IT!
That really makes it worse. If I could stop it, I WOULD. I’ve been dealing with this for years and chances are, your command to STOP will only make it worse.
Instead- Ask “Is there anything I can do right now?”
For the most part, people who suffer from anxiety have a deep seeded anticipation of being hurt. Bringing them into the moment with a question like “Is there anything I can do right now?” will remind them that through all of their expectations that the world is out to hurt them, right here and right now, YOU care. This will help them to relax a little and even though their thoughts may still carry them away into the intense land of anxiety, your words DO matter and make an impact.
Don’t- Move away from me.
Instead- Touch me. Touch my hand.
Give me a hug. Rub my back. Offer a reassuring smile. Most often, when I’m feeling anxiety I am feeling unsafe in this world and unloved and feeling the pressure of having to deal with all of my fearful expectations alone. A hug would be the best bet for my remedy which will help me to understand that at this moment, I am NOT alone and someone cares enough not to run away or judge me for not being “normal.”
Don’t- Tell me “There’s medicine for that”
That is so rude of you although I do understand that my illness is making you uncomfortable. Some people, like myself, prefer not to treat it with medication. I tend to simply isolate myself from others instead because I do not want to become dependent on a substance to level off my moods.
Instead- Be the medicine.
Be the remedy. Make me feel safe while I’m with you. If I feel that I can go through an anxiety attack while I’m with you and not be judged or reprimanded, I may experience less anxiety attacks in your presence and you MAY become my safe place.
If my quirk or illness is bothering you that much, please do feel free not to engage with me. You won’t be the first person to think I am weird and it would really do both of us a favor because I spend a lot of time learning to understand and accept other people’s quirks, interests and behaviors. If you are not willing to do the same, you aren’t a good match for me and I will understand.
Thank you for reading this and trying to be a better friend or partner.