Anxiety and panic attacks
Explains anxiety and panic attacks, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
How can other people help?
It can be really difficult when someone you care about is experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, but there are things you can do to help. Here are some tips:
Don't pressure them
Try not to put pressure on your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with. It's really important to be patient, listen to their wishes and take things at a pace that feels okay for them.
It's understandable to want to help them face their fears or find practical solutions, but it can be very distressing for someone to feel they're being forced into situations before they feel ready. This could even make their anxiety worse.
Try to remember that being unable to control their worries is part of having anxiety, and they aren't choosing how they feel.
What helps me is calmness, acceptance – not trying to dispel it with 'rational' or 'logical' argument.
Try to understand
- Find out as much as you can about anxiety. This will help you understand what they are going through. Reading personal stories of anxiety can help too.
- Ask about their experience. You could ask them how anxiety affects their day-to-day life, and what makes it better or worse. Listening to how they experience things could help you to empathise with how they feel.
Be kind, be non-judgemental. Let us know it will pass, let us know you are there.
Ask how you can help
Your friend or family member may already know how you can support them – for example, helping them with difficult situations, talking to them calmly or doing breathing exercises with them.
By asking them what they need or how you can help, you can support them to feel more in control themselves.
Knowing that there is someone around who knows what to do if they start to feel frightened or panicked could help them feel safer and calmer.
Reminding me to breathe, asking me what I need.
Support them to seek help
If you think your friend or family member's anxiety is becoming a problem for them, you could encourage them to seek treatment by talking to a GP or therapist. You could:
- Offer to help them arrange a doctor's appointment. If they are scared of leaving the house, you could suggest they ring their GP to find out if they will do home visits and telephone appointments.
- Offer support when they attend appointments. You could offer to go with them to their appointments and wait in the waiting room. You can also help them plan what they'd like to talk about with the doctor. See our page on talking to your GP for more information.
- Help them seek help from a therapist. See our page on how to find a therapist for more information.
- Help them research different options for support, such as community services or peer support groups such as those run by Anxiety UK and No Panic. See our useful contacts page for more information. You could also call Mind's Infoline to find out more about local services.
See our page on helping someone else seek help for more information.
Look after yourself
It can sometimes be really challenging to support someone with a mental health problem – you are not alone if you feel overwhelmed at times. It is important to remember to look after your own mental health too, so you have the energy, time and space you need to be able to help.
- Set boundaries and don't take on too much. If you become unwell yourself you won't be able to support them or yourself in the same way. It is also important to decide what your limits are and how much you feel able to help.
- Share your caring role with others, if you can. It's often easier to support someone if you're not doing it alone.
- Talk to others about how you're feeling. You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you're supporting, but talking about your own feelings with someone you trust can help you feel supported too.
- Find support for yourself. The organisations in useful contacts are there to support you as well. You may find peer support or therapies are a good outlet for your feelings.
This information was published in February 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
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