17 Nov 2015

What you need to know about anxiety

12:26 pm on 17 November 2015

A few ways you can help yourself - or a loved one - through an anxiety attack.


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Photo: Illustration: Toby Morris

Illustration: Toby Morris

One in 5 New Zealanders are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Here's what they wish you knew about coping with panic attacks.

1. Plan ahead

“Talk to them when they’re calm and agree in advance on things they would like to hear when an attack is coming - I suggest things like “You’re safe now” or “what your emotions are telling you isn’t true”. Sometimes, saying things like ‘Calm down,’ ‘You’re being irrational,’ ‘Snap out of it,’ or ‘There’s nothing to worry about’ can actually be counterproductive.”

2. Address the physical

“When they’re in the moment, look to treat the physical symptoms, not the root cause - you can talk about that later. But while it’s happening, just treat it like you’d treat it if they had a chronic bleeding nose - do they need to lie down, put their feet up, have a glass of water?”

“Drop your shoulders - it’s very hard to have a panic attack if you’ve focused on relaxing your shoulders.”

“Breath into a paper bag! It actually works.”

3. Try strategies to relax

“Try massage. Your body needs to unlearn that high-alert tension, as well as your mind, and treating one helps the other.”

“I go for runs, I eat better - I have to get exercise at least once a day.”

4. Talk to an expert

“See a good counselor, one you actually trust and connect with. Not everyone is good. That’s really important - it’s OK to try a few people until you find someone who actually suits you.”


5. Consider medication

“I was quite resistant to the drug thing [medication for anxiety] to start off with, but now I’ve realised it can be good, if you’re going through a really hard time and find a good drug that works.”

“Medication can be great, especially if you’re really feeling out of control. But don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, if you think the dose or the drug isn’t working - and try smaller doses.”

6. Do some research

“I would say go on the internet, and try all the self-calming strategies - even the ones that seem kooky or new age, like listening to dolphin noises or whatever. Try mindfulness. Try meditation. Some of them sound silly, but honestly, they do work.”

7. Try to empathise

“I sometimes run workshops, and I’ve actually done sessions where you get people to mimic the effects of an anxiety attack - just by pulling their shoulders up, tensing all their muscles, and sucking in oxygen. And after a few minutes they start to feel just terrible, and it gives some idea of what that’s like.”