5 Ways NOT to Help a Friend with Anxiety Attacks, part 3: Let’s talk it out

5 Ways Not to Help a Friend with Anxiety Attacks

If ESPN broadcasted anxiety stats instead of sports scores, this would be the standing in my house:


I’m hitting the point in this pregnancy (27 weeks) where sleep is greatly desired, but I’m waking up more than I’d like. Last night I only got five hours of sleep before simultaneous heartburn, hunger, and the siren call of the bathroom got to me. After breakfast, I laid back down and tried to take a nap. Instead of passing out, however, I realized my breath was coming faster and faster, and my heart rate began to climb. Ever aware of the fact that what happens to me affects my baby, I had my husband take my pulse. I clocked in at 124 heartbeats per minute.

It only took a moment for me to really figure out what was going on. An anxiety attack was calling, and I’d left the door wide open. After a cautionary trip to the hospital last week to check on Jelly Bean, I’d decided to relax a bit until everything returned to normal. And while it was a good decision (in my opinion), it also meant I didn’t get nearly as much exercise as usual. (And exercise is my Numero Uno natural anti-anxiety “medication.”) Of course, there was also the song I was going to sing in some dear friends’ wedding this afternoon, and the fact that we’re moving in about two weeks, and I’m nowhere near packed or ready.

In short, there were lots of reasons for the anxiety to creep in.

My husband had a decision to make when I told him the reason for my crazy heart rate. He had to choose his words and actions so that they helped me overcome my anxiety, rather than making them worse. And thankfully, he didn’t choose any of these.

Today is the third of 5 straight Mondays in which we are going to discuss 5 ways NOT to help someone having an anxiety attack. If you can follow these 5 rules, you may just find yourself a new best friend. Here is rule No. 1. Here is rule No. 2. And following is rule No. 3:

Force them to talk it out

This goes hand-in-hand with the last piece of advice. There are some times when I feel like I need to talk to someone during an anxiety attack, but there are other times where I just need to focus on my breathing. Sitting with me quietly can be a healing balm to my anxious soul. Forcing me to accept you as my therapist, however, can backfire.

This is a hard line to walk, and not only is every friend different, but every anxiety attack is different. I would start by asking gentle questions. Here are some good starters:

  • Can I get you anything like a drink of water?
  • Would you like it if I sat here with you for a while?
  • Is there something I can do to make it better?
  • Do you want to talk about it?

Asking questions gives your friend more control of the situation, which can be helpful, considering that his anxiety attack is probably the result of her feeling out of control. If she says yes, or gives you something specific that you can help her with, then you’re headed in the right direction. If she says no, then maybe she just needs you to sit with her in silence. Bearing a silent burden can be one of the most beautiful gifts you can give.

A quick note of caution about prayer. I have had people pray with me before during my anxiety attacks, and I’ve really appreciated it. But please don’t treat a prayer like a pill. It’s stressful to me when someone prays with me and then expects the anxiety attack to be over. Chances are, when someone notices me having an anxiety attack, I’ve been praying for the last ten minutes already. Praying with someone can be a great way to share God’s love, but that doesn’t mean you skip all the other steps mentioned above.

Just as God sometimes takes His time answering prayers for healing of illnesses or injuries, He often does the same with anxiety attacks. They won’t last forever, but just because you prayed doesn’t meant He’ll remove the fear immediately, either. You don’t know what He’s doing in your friend’s heart, and pressing for an answer isn’t going to help anyone.

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