What do You Say to Someone Going Through an Anxious Episode?

Last night was a long, rough night. My almost five year old daughter was up multiple times. I could tell that each time, she woke from a deep sleep as she was confused and disoriented. The third time she woke up, she absolutely lost it. Big, ugly, sobbing, crying mess. She was beside herself and could not be consoled nor could she tell us what was the matter.

It is a helpless feeling not being able to console your child.

It can also be infuriating.

I don't handle crying kids well. It takes all of my strength to keep calm. I think because of my own anxiety and introversion crying can just be completely overstimulating to my senses. All I want to do is MAKE IT STOP!

But, because I AM that person -- the person who cries a lot and has to go through the feelings, I am able to put myself in their place and keep my emotions in check. I remind myself of the things that are helpful for me and avoid the things that are counter productive to the situation.

The most counter productive things to say to anyone going through an anxious episode are:
You're okay.
Calm down.
Stop crying.
Those of us in the midst of anxiety and emotion are completely incapable of doing so, and telling someone to stop only causes more duress and actually brings on a sense of shame for feeling emotion. Crying is a physical release for our emotion. Bottling it up will do NO good.

My amazing husband was the one that consoled Gwenyth through her episode last night. He was completely calm and prayed for her first. Then, he began to say the perfect things. As I listened from our room, I realized, that these are the very things that are what I need to hear when I am going through anxiety and panic. I know he has said these things to ME many times...

"Even though you feel very bad right now, I still love you and God loves you even more."

I don't want to generalize everyone that lives with anxiety. What works for me might not work for another, but these words work for me because:
A) They acknowledge that I am NOT okay and it is okay not to feel okay. Okay?
  - If you mean to say okay as a way to communicate safety then say, "you are safe."
B) They acknowledge that I am still loved.
  - I know my emotions are difficult. I know they can be intense. It is difficult for ME to have you see me like this. I don't want to be a bother. I feel embarrassed. Anxious people are constantly battling self doubt and worrying about what others think of us. To know we are loved unconditionally is UNBELIEVABLY reassuring.

I have friends who have also said very helpful things when I am calling out for help and prayers:

"I know you feel awful right now, but it will not last. You will come through to the other side. These feelings will not last forever."

This is helpful and encouraging, again, because it acknowledges the feelings and the struggle. They remind me that the symptoms are temporary while not being unrealistic that they will disappear instantly if I just "calm down."

From there, patience and presence is what many anxiety ridden people, like me, need. A calm presence does wonders for me. You don't even have to talk. Simply stating, "I am not leaving you" is all I need.

I think I can sum up this post like this:


What do you wish people would say to you when you are "going through it?" Or do you have helpful comments that you know have helped other people in times of high emotion? Let me know in the comments.

12 comments:

  1. I've been thinking about this post a lot. I've had panic/anxiety disorder (or whatever they call it now) since I was 10 or 11 years old. That's over four decades of unpredictable attacks, advice, fretting...you know. I don't have any magic cure for it. Yes, praying helps. Yes, I know all the relevant Bible passages.

    Your comment, "It's okay to not feel okay" really resonated with me because that's what was hardest for me to accept. That there *is* something wrong, that I really can't control it, and that's okay. One thing that has helped me get through some tough times was starting to publicly acknowledge it, to stop saying that I was "okay" when I really, really wasn't. Now if I'm in a setting with others and I feel an attack coming on, I just tell the group what's going on so that if I have to take myself out of whatever we're doing for a while, they'll know why. What's been amazing for memis how often that has led to opportunities for me to minister to others. In fact, in large groups, I'm always approached by someone else who deals with it, too, but has been afraid to admit it. We are not alone, but we often feel like we are because we have all been trained to hide it. The other thing that happens is that when I do this is that it often seems to reduce the severity and duration of the attack. I can't control the attack but I can take away some of the fear associated with it (What will people think? Can I get out of here if I need to? Will I be safe?) That tiny bit of control over the situation makes all the difference. The first time I tried it was when I was hosting a weekend quilting retreat at my house. I hit a point the first afternoon where I just had to get away from the dear ladies that were attending. I told them what was up, they had a coffee break and I took a short walk. And afterwards, one of them pulled me aside and told me that she had social anxiety, that she'd been struggling all day and that when I made that announcement, it was like a weight had been lifted off her heart and mind. She knew that she was in a safe place, where she didn't have to fret about how I'd react if she needed to be alone. Every now and then she'd quietly take herself away from the group for half an hour or so and it was all good. I never in a million years ever thought that this would be something that would be used to bless others, but God uses us the way we are.

    One final thought, when Christ was in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion, He went through the most serious panic attacks I've ever heard of...He even sweated blood! He knew what was coming and He was terrified of it. Did He need stronger faith? I don't think so. Did He need to pray harder, read His Bible more? I doubt it. Yes He had legitimate cause to fear which is different than the usually irrational panic attacks that I have, but that doesn't negate the fact that He truly understands the mental and emotional distress that I go through during an attack. That's very comforting to me and makes Mike's statement that "God loves you and" that much more powerful. Jesus not only loves me through an attack, He understands it on my human level and He makes it safe for me "to not be okay."

    Blessings to you, thanks for opening your heart on such a difficult subject.

    Anne Kusilek

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    1. Anne,you pretty much have written a blog post I've been working on for months. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was LIFE CHANGING for me. Seriously. I first read about it from this perspective in the book Redemption. I can't wait to share more!

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  2. Anxiety sucks-big time-and the best thing you van so to help someone is let them know that it will pass and they aren't alone.

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  3. This was so helpful Chris! I think about how often, even when Kit gets hurt or is crying just because, I'll say "it's okay." This made me realize that I need to change my language and either just reassure her that I'm there and love her.

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    1. Yes! It doesn't just apply to anxiety -- especially with kids. We are so trained to tell kids "it's okay." I find it helps them recover quicker to acknowledge their feelings and telling them it will feel better soon.

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  4. Good advice. I haven't dealt with this because my son is still so young but i will be filing this away for the future. :)

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    1. Yes... see the comments right above : ) Thanks for reading!!

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  5. This is so relatable! I have anxiety anyway, and when Hudson was a newborn my chest used to constant hurt just from listening to him cry and feeling helpless. Although I can't speak to him yet, this was something my husband had to learn to help me take a deep breath and carry on. Thanks for sharing

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    1. Isn't it just so nice to know there are others who relate? It's a comfort. Thanks for reading!

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