How to Keep Cool When Anxiety Strikes

Background

It was December 2016 and I was abroad on holiday in Pakistan.

What does anxiety feel like?

“The first sign is a sinking feeling in the stomach.

Next come the sweats and fidgeting.

After, the mind starts to race thinking up all the horrible possibilities which could come next.”

This is what it feels like for me to have an anxiety attack. It happens in a matter of moments.

How did I learn to cope?

My parents were a big support in seeking professional help in the first instance.

How do I support others?

My friend taught me to watch out for these types of things but it’s never as raw as the real deal.

  1. Active Listening: if a friend has taken the leap of faith to open up and be vulnerable about how they feel, they must trust you. The best thing you do here is let them open the floodgates while you acknowledge and reassure. Try not to debate things with them even if you think what they are saying is right or wrong, rational or irrational. It’s likely they want to speak freely and they are trusting you to listen. Active listening requires not only hearing the words but understanding the complete message. This includes facial expressions, hand gestures, and any other movements. You can reciprocate these through head nods and acknowledging affirmations. Let them know you are really there. It takes a lot of nerve to speak up and can be a really important step for them.
  2. Be careful about projecting your own experiences: while you’re listening, the best thing if you want to make a point or put things in perspective is to relay the same example back to them. You should actively try to normalise how they are feeling and maybe use your own life experience to do that. However, it’s worth judging the situation. Sometimes using your own experience to help someone else is futile because the only way through is realising for themselves what is the issue and how they might try and address it. Many people won’t internalise what someone else tells them, they have to believe in themselves first to start to see a change. It’s best to actively listen first and see what approach to take.
  3. Offer empathy not sympathy: empathy is the ability to understand someone’s feelings without having direct experience yourself. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. The person trusts you, they don’t need your apologies. They need someone who can help them to work through their emotions. The world can feel ever so small in these situations; they want someone to care.
  4. Encourage not escaping the situation: if you are to give a single piece of advice, this would be it. The thought and action of escaping a situation, I’ve found, only reinforces the belief that in future situations you can do the same. This is not healthy because there will inevitably be some scenarios where you can’t.

The COVID-19 Context

COVID-19 has exacerbated anxiety for millions around the world.

KeepCool Anxiety film

5 Top Reminders

Anxiety hits you when you least expect it.

Anxiety is not your fault.

It’s okay to admit you have anxiety.

Find what works for you to cope with anxiety.

Deliver empathy to friends dealing with anxiety.

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Danial Naqvi

Danial Naqvi

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Joint PhD Candidate Business & Management at Manchester & Melbourne| MSc UCL Science, Technology and Society | BA (Hons) QMUL Human Geography |