Understanding and Helping Someone with Anxiety Porterville College


This presentation includes reading, videos, weblinks, and other content regarding anxiety disorders. It is possible that something you read/watch during this presentation will trigger an emotional response, whether or not you have experienced anxiety disorders. Please seek help if needed.

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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. It might cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. It can be a normal reaction to stress. For example, you might feel anxious when faced with a difficult problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. It can help you to cope. The anxiety may give you a boost of energy or help you focus. But for people with anxiety disorders, the fear is not temporary and can be overwhelming.

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are conditions in which you have anxiety that does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.

What are the types of anxiety disorders?

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD worry about ordinary issues such as health, money, work, and family. But their worries are excessive, and they have them almost every day for at least 6 months.
  • Panic disorder. People with panic disorder have panic attacks. These are sudden, repeated periods of intense fear when there is no danger. The attacks come on quickly and can last several minutes or more.
  • Phobias. People with phobias have an intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Their fear may be about spiders, flying, going to crowded places, or being in social situations (known as social anxiety).

What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?

The different types of anxiety disorders can have different symptoms. But they all have a combination of:

  • Anxious thoughts or beliefs that are hard to control. They make you feel restless and tense and interfere with your daily life. They do not go away and can get worse over time.
  • Physical symptoms, such as a pounding or rapid heartbeat, unexplained aches and pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath
  • Changes in behavior, such as avoiding everyday activities you used to do

Helping someone during a panic attack

If you see a friend or loved one having a panic attack, there are things you should do and things you shouldn't do.

Things you should do:

  • Stay calm. Don’t let the situation overrun you. Your low-key behavior can be a model for your friend and let them know everything's OK.
  • Stick around. The best thing you can do to help with a panic attack is to stay and help your friend ride it out. Most panic attacks ease up in 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Do your best to be understanding, positive, and encouraging. Ask what the cause of your friend's panic is. That can let them take a step back and think about the situation more rationally.
  • Focus on breathing. It can really help a panic attack to pass if the sufferer is able to take control of their breathing. Some people advocate the use of breathing into a paper bag, others try to slow the sufferer’s breathing by counting with them as they breathe in and out and another strategy is to imagine blowing bubbles. It doesn’t really matter what strategy you use, but sit with the sufferer, talk to them about their breathing, encourage them to actively think about it, and really focus on slowing it down and taking control of it.

Things you shouldn't do:

  • Don’t try to minimize it. Understand that the panic you see is real to your friend, even if the cause may not appear rational to you.
  • Don’t be judgmental or critical. Blaming someone for a panic attack doesn’t help. Don’t try to talk them out of it, either.
  • Don't make assumptions about what the person needs. Ask.
  • Don't panic. Panic fuels panic so it’s most important that you control your own anxiety when responding to someone else’s panic attack. You should also ask other people to move away and give the sufferer some space as this will make the whole situation feel calmer too and abate any worries the sufferer has now or later about how many peers witnessed their attack.
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If you see someone experiencing an anxiety attack, please notify college personal immediately or call safety and security at 559-791-2440. If you feel it is life-threatening, call 911.


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Created By
Todd Dearmore