I tend to talk a lot about what people do wrong when it comes to talking about the mental illness community. The negative tends to stick out in my head because I remember being offended, whereas I don’t remember when things run smoothly. The green flag is much easier to miss than the red flag. So, as requested, I’m going to share some of the things people do right when it comes to mental illness. So here are a few things people have done that have helped me during a panic attack.
1. Ask what you can do to help.
Asking what you can to do help them can be the most helpful thing you can do. So many people don’t even try to understand what’s going on, why this person is freaking out. They just write them off as crazy and belittle or ignore them. Asking how you can help is the first step in respecting how someone is feeling. There have been so many times when I’ve had a panic attack where if someone had just asked me what they could to do help, I might have yelled, “I don’t know” at first, and then realized that I needed a glass of water or some fresh air. Sometimes I can’t even form words when I’m having a panic attack, so I point to the door when I need to go outside. Anything you can do to help this person escape this feeling is beneficial. The first step is to ask them how.
2. Respect their boundaries.
They may want you to give them space. Some people don’t want to be touched because sensory overload actually gave them the panic attack. Too much noise or too much physical contact can make their panic attack worse, so if they ask you not to touch them or to lower your voice, they’re not trying to be mean. They’re just trying to calm down.
3. Help them focus on something else.
Try to do breathing exercises with them. Help divert their focus to something else. Play a song they like. If they’re okay with it. Even getting them a drink of water can help. It helps them get their breath back. So if someone did that for me, while I was having a panic attack in order to divert my purpose, it would be so helpful.
4. Remind them that this feeling will pass.
In the moment, the panic feels like it’s going to last forever. Simply reminding someone that this feeling will pass, can help them see through the pain to the light at the end of the tunnel. Help them take it moment by moment. The feeling will end, and you will be waiting there at the end of the tunnel for them.
5. Listen to them.
A lot of people in the mental illness community just need to be heard. They need someone to listen to and believe them. It’s shocking how many people are accused of faking. In a world where we are ignored, feared, or ridiculed, simply being taken seriously can do a world of good.