How To Help A Loved One
Who Suffers From High Stress, Anxiety or Panic Attacks
by Dr Silvia Hartmann
Imagine the scene.
A rooftop, night, cold, windy.
At the edge of the roof stands a young lady, completely distraught and ready to jump.
She is tearing her hair, rocking, muttering insanely, crying, sometimes screaming random abuse and pain.
You walk up and what do you do now?
Now imagine, this young lady was your sister, your lover, your wife, your daughter, or your best friend.
Notice how immediately, the situation changes.
How now, YOU ARE AFRAID.
How now, you no longer know what to do and if you say the wrong thing, she WILL jump.
And here, in a nutshell, we have the problem that faces a person who loves someone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks.
Fear breeds more fear.
Uncertainty breeds more uncertainty.
What a stressed person needs in another is a LOCUS (central focus, center) of strength, clarity, and most of all, that FOCUS that they themselves now no longer have.
They need to be CALLED BACK to their normal mode of sane and resourceful functioning, like an aircraft in a fog needs the tower control to talk them down, every step of the way, until they have safely landed, exited, and have safe and supportive ground under their feet once more.
This is the job of anyone at all who wants to help a person in diSTRESS, whether they are in pain, having a psychotic attack, a drug experience gone wrong, a total emotional meltdown (called a "tantrum") or an anxiety or panic attack, it matters not.
When an ambulance crew arrives and faces a screaming person, bleeding and obviously "out of their mind" with distress, or with stress, we might as well call it, they will be calm and absolutely steady.
They will follow a set rule of procedures that they have learned during their training which keeps themselves focused and the person in stress safe.
This is very much the same idea we will be following here; and like the ambulance crew, if you follow these procedures and become practiced at using them, you too will be safe and EXTREMELY HELPFUL to have around in a moment of crisis.
At the core of all of this lies your own fear.
When a person becomes very distressed, and their behaviours and all their thoughts, all their feelings and their logic simply disappears in a whirlpool of adrenaline induced chaos, they trigger in anyone else who is around quite naturally all their own fears immediately - the other person becomes stressed as well.
But now, instead of one stressed person, we have two, and these will engage and enter a feedback loop of stress that frightens both.
The adrenaline induced chaos of thought, emotion and behaviour in stress needs above all else, a safety anchor in the storm, a light at the end of the tunnel, a steady guiding hand to bring them back to themselves and that is why YOU must be FEARLESS when you want to help others who are stressed.
This is just the same system for simply coping with everyday tantrums of children or co-workers as it is with high end situations like the young lady on the top of the roof.
So first of all, we need to deal with ALL YOUR FEARS about the situation, using the classic EFT protocol.
Although each is slightly different, there are some constants that come up again and again.
You can tap these opening statements first and then make a list of your own, one that covers all and every reservation you have about being perfectly able to STABILISE your loved one in a moment of crisis as well as, or much better still, than any professional armed with an injection needle.
1. Fear of Insanity
In our societies, there is a truly tremendous fear of insanity, culturally built in and culturally constantly re-enforced, probably to cement a tiny range of "acceptable" emotions and behaviours for control purposes.
In many people, fear of insanity is far, far higher and more insidious than fear of death, for example; this is rarely treated properly or even addressed at all in standard psychology and so even someone who has been in classical treatment for many years might have never even known they suffer from this problem.
Especially intelligent and highly creative people, with their unusual thoughts and vivid internal representations, will be terrified of the "Nietzsche Effect" - "we all know" that genius and insanity go hand in hand, right?
Fear of insanity is one of the core reasons why people with anxiety attacks and their loved ones enter major stress loops, and to understand that behaviour under stress IS GOING TO BE INSANE, because it can't be anything else, quite naturally and structurally, is a big step forward.
- Even though I am terrified of (Susan's) insanity, I deeply and profoundly love and accept myself.
- Even though I am terrified of (Susan's) insanity, I deeply and profoundly love and accept (Susan).
Tap them both and tap these statements thoroughly, and until you really have them down to 0.
You might find as you tap these statements that more specific fears emerge, which will make your own personalised opening statements, such as:
Even though I am terrified (Susan) might hurt herself ... Even though I am terrified (Susan) might die ... Even though I am terrified (Susan) might harm me ... Even though I am terrified (Susan) might leave me ... Even though I am terrified (Susan) might be taken away from me ... Even though I am terrified (Susan) might get worse because of me ...
Please be BRUTALLY HONEST with yourself when you do these opening statements. I chose the word "terrified", not just afraid, or uncomfortable, or worried.
To watch someone really lose it and stand there and be stressed and helpless is really TERRIFYING as an experience; further, no-one need ever know just what you tapped on to make YOUR OWN PERSONAL BREAKTHROUGH on this topic.
2. YOUR Traumatic Memories
If you live with a person who suffers from severe anxiety or has panic attacks, then there will have been moments of high trauma - terrifying moments, like the lady on the roof, that become real, proper traumas for you.
These are in structure no different at all to the sort of things that cause soldiers in a war to develop all kinds of fears, symptoms and post traumatic stress disorder.
As an example, one lady came home from work one day and found her husband lying on the bathroom floor, covered in blood, because he had cut his wrists.
This picture was "burned into her mind" and it was so terrifying to her that she just couldn't cope with it at all and HAD to leave him; the thought of this moment was with her every time she left the flat and regardless of whether he was particularly stressed at the time.
Before she left him, the last few weeks were a nightmare for her because she lived now herself in a constant state of high anxiety and didn't dare speak to him or do anything at all in case she might say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and he would "freak out" again.
This is the polar opposite to the calm and supportive ambulance crew of course, or the focused, compassionate tower control operator talking the frightened pilot down.
However, because of HER TRAUMA, we can't possibly expect her to function properly herself now; SHE NEEDED HELP just as badly as her husband did.
So, if this story has reminded you of any number of incidents that are "burned into your mind" like that, and they don't have to be so dramatic as this example, then we need to clear them now - just for you, and regardless of whatever may become of any relationships further down the line.
Here are some examples of how to deal with such incidents.*
In general, and rather than using a single opening statement, you simply tell the story of how you remember the incident WHILST YOU TAP.
You will find that there are very specific moments which ENCAPSULATE the trauma of the event.
In our example, they went like this:
I went into the bathroom and there was all this blood ..."
Clearly, the image of "all this blood" was what was "burned into her mind" and tapping on simply just "All this blood ..." produced major releases and shifts in the very first round.
But keep tapping until you really do "heave a sigh of relief" and you know the trauma is gone from that moment, from that image of the past.
In the example, the words went on as follows, with the important parts which were tapped highlighted:
- I stood as frozen and my heart stood still.
- I knew I had failed him totally, I had failed totally.
- I should have known there was something wrong.
The final opening statement in this example, and the one that produced the greatest result in changing this ladies mind about herself and the incident was this:
- I can't help anyone I love, I'm not good enough, not strong enough."
Once the lady had tapped this statement, the old trauma collapsed completely and she came out of it knowing that she was indeed, a powerful and competent human being who COULD make a big difference and help other people - AND HERSELF.
3. Understanding The Effects Of Stress & Anxiety
A person who is reeling drunk is NOT held responsible for their actions by a court of law - because they really didn't know what they were doing, because their CAPACITY for clear and logical thought had disappeared, because they really no longer knew right from wrong.
People who are "tanked up on adrenaline" are in exactly the same position.
They do NOT know what they are doing, they don't know what they are saying, and they don't know right from wrong anymore either.
For someone who is on the outside of this, who LIVES with an alcoholic or a stressed out person, or a drug addict, it is of the essence to understand that the REAL PERSON IS NOT PRESENT UNDER THE INFLUENCE of adrenaline.
They are NOT thinking straight, and whatever random nonsense they come up with during those times is exactly and ONLY that - random nonsense that isn't worth the paper it isn't printed on.
Whether they are shouting about demonic voices, the CIA bugging the electrical outlets, horrors and pains of the past, how they are going to die this very moment because they can't go on, this is all the equivalent of "pill talk" - please DO NOT TAKE ANY OF IT SERIOUSLY OR EVEN IN AT ALL.
In other words, to try and "talk someone out of it" with reasoned argument is an entirely pointless exercise and likely to make the disturbances in their systems worse, because you're feeding the same nonsense that is the RESULT of their disturbed output right back into the system.
This is completely systemic and holds not just for your stressed loved one, but for me, and for you, and for the President of the United States just as well.
Stressed people say very hurtful and untrue things about themselves, about life, about you - and none of it is worth a dime. It's just "stress talk". They really DON'T mean a word of it, because they can't.
For us, out on the other side, who hear these frightening, hurtful, insane and awful things, it can be quite difficult to keep a calm energy system and realise that a stress loop of insanity is about to develop, and if we go on playing that particular game, we will both end up saying and doing all kinds of things that are highly unproductive in every sense of the word.
The reason I'm mentioning this is that unless you know this, you or your loved one might have taken a great many things "seriously" and "to heart" which were nothing but random stress talk and utterly meaningless, and worthless.
Have a think what decisions or beliefs you have made from this stress talk/stress behaviour that are now getting in everyone's way.
Here are some examples:
Even though Susan thinks she's worthless, I deeply and profoundly love and accept Susan."
Even though Susan thinks I'm useless, ..."
Even though I think Susan is just a coward ..."
Even though Susan thinks it's all over ..."
Even though I think she'll never live a normal life ..."
Even though Susan thinks I don't really love her ..."
There are as many variations on this theme as there are individuals involved; you will know the ones that are always coming up when stress rears its ugly head and logic, friendliness, compassion and joy go out of the window.
The truth at the end of the day is that you are BOTH fine, very resourceful individuals with immense value, so much there waiting to unfold itself.
That's the only truth IN REALITY and in real truth, and if you really get to work at the issues that stand between either of you and THAT TRUTH, changes will happen for the better, and very quickly, at that.
First Aid Procedures
The first of our first aid procedures is not about your loved one, but about YOU.
1. Be CALM & Steady
Are you stressed now?
If so, stop and take a deep breath.
Leave the room and tap yourself if you have to, or walk away and TREAT YOURSELF.
If you are stressed, you'll be no good to anyone, including your loved one.
This is akin to the instruction given on airplanes about mothers having to put the oxygen mask on their own faces FIRST, and only then, put the second oxygen mask on the baby.
If they try to do it the other way around, BOTH MOTHER AND BABY WILL DIE.
Remember also that if you are stressed you will make WRONG DECISIONS and say and do the WRONG things.
So YOU need to get aware of YOUR OWN stress levels and when they get to a point where logic and sanity is being threatened, you need to take a time out and center yourself, firstly and foremostly.**
NB. If you have treated yourself for Points 1-3 above, you will already be markedly calmer and more COMPETENT than you ever used to be; this step is going to be much easier than you ever thought possible.
2. Reduce Stress
Movement is one of the best stress reducers and most natural one. If you can get the person to move, perhaps move away from a situation, stimulus, or walk with you, a great many full panic or anxiety attacks never come into being in the first place.
Also remember movement as a general stress reducer in every day life. We are built for fight or flight responses to adrenaline being present in our systems, and panic attacks often happen when a person feels "stuck" and incapable of moving away from something that is frightening them. If you know of NLP, you know that one can even "turn one's back" on an idea, or walk away from a thought, quite literally.
The same goes for you too, of course. TVs can be switched off, pictures turned face down, letters put away into a drawer and many other stressful stimuli removed using that kind of movement; we can get back to them later when we are more centered.
Please note that often very stressed people might fight this "movement away from" what frightens them because they are thinking illogically that it is some form of defeat, rather than the sensible thing to do at the time.
3. Direct, Focused Instructions
Under stress, not just the field of vision collapses into "tunnel vision" but also the range of thought, into "tunnel thinking". Emotions collapse into "tunnel feelings" and then the nasty spider, thought or heartache becomes a literal hell and is "all there is".
Thus, a stressed person can claim wholeheartedly that "nobody loves me" when their entire family and a hundred thousand well meaning fans are clustered in deep rows right around their bedside.
All the resources of intelligence, foresight, creativity, intuition, courage, strength, experience and so on and so on are then OUTSIDE of that "tunnel vision" - to the stressed person it is then in actuality as though these didn't even exist at all.
What gets through and has a chance to get "into that tunnel thinking" are CLEAR, DIRECT INSTRUCTIONS.
"Put that gun down. Put it down. Put that gun down, now. Put it down. Put the gun down."
Calmly, repeated many times, simple, clear instructions like this are given to stressed people and they are heard eventually. They get through.
Depending on your situation, and with you being clear and focused, you can find such a clear instruction, even if is, "Take a step back. Take just one step back, step back. Step back. Take a step back."
The mind of the stressed person can focus on this, and this instruction becomes a lifeline in their internal storm. Any smallest indication that it is being heard, being received, being PROCESSED, such as a flickering of the lids, a quick downward look at the feet, a beginning of a movement to complete that instruction is then re-enforced calmly, praised calmly, and all you need to say then is, "Very good. You are doing very, very well. Take a step back, that's very good, well done ..."
Now, I understand that some might think that this is a very "unnatural" way to address Susan (my wife, my mother, my daughter, my lover ...) but we must remember that Susan as such isn't really here at the moment. She is lost in a storm and these repetitive words and most basic, most simple of encouragements are giving the REAL Susan a lifeline to come out and take charge herself again as is right and proper. When Susan is REALLY back (and you know what that is like!), THEN we can have a meaningful conversation, and not before.
If your partner/loved one knows how to do EFT themselves, or even if they don't, a very beneficial instruction is: "Tap under your eye. Just tap under your eye ..."
The added benefit of the meridian energy balancing will bring them "out" of the storm much, much more quickly than other simple random behaviour sequences ever could by themselves.
This is very useful and brings me to the one last major first aid technique, namely:
"Take a breath, just breathe. Take a deep breath, take a deep breath in, that's very, very good! You're doing really well. Breathe, just breathe ..."
That instruction is completely hypnotic and immensely helpful. It is a version of "movement" and helps reduce adrenaline quickly. Remember this instruction also for yourself. It is truly in many situations an absolute life saver and can really prevent us from making possibly fatal mistakes.
NB: If a person is breathing shallow and way too fast (technical term - hyperventilating), get them breathing into a bag of any kind, or even into a pillow. But the instructions, slow and rhythmical to take a deep, slow breath stay essentially the same.
Getting a person to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth can also help stabilise chaotic breathing patterns.
5. Food & Drink
Insulin decreases adrenaline, but also the act of accepting and handling "a nice cup of hot tea" or even a mint is the movement/instruction double we have already talked about before.
Many people get addicted to alcohol because it is often habitual in our society to use "a stiff drink" for this purpose and then the relaxation that occurs is falsely tied into the alcohol - which then becomes a stress device.
Getting a stressed person to eat or drink is the final way to get them out of a building stress loop and back into equilibrium. Smokers use cigarettes for the same reason.
Long Term Focus
To conclude, I would like to state one more time how immensely important it is to remain calm yourself, and to take care of YOURSELF first and foremost.
Remember the mothers and babies with their oxygen masks.
You KNOW what a wonderful human being your loved one is and just how much immense potential to have to really shine when they are their own true selves, and not in a state of hysterics and "tunnel thinking".
That is the "true Susan" if you will, and that's where we have to keep our focus completely.
Susan, our symbolic loved one here, is NOT the stress creature.
Susan really IS strong, and powerful, and beautiful, and the less stress she has, and the clearer she becomes, the more often she will be herself as she truly is.
WE can help HER the best by focusing on that, tapping our own doubts about ourselves and about "her" and clearing OURSELVES of stress, past traumas and limiting decisions.
EFT is truly the perfect tool for this, because it is so easy to use, and so quick; it brings good results right away and you can do it as soon as you have discovered something that gets in your way of being calm and centered yourself first of all.
When YOU ARE, then you become a whole new resource for "Susan" too.
The stronger YOU become, the more strength your loved one can draw from you and use this to repair themselves.
And that's the last point I would really like to stress.
YOU cannot "heal" your loved one.
They have to do that for themselves, in their own time.
But if they have a true CHAMPION in you, someone who really believes in them, who knows just how wonderful they are and keeps that steady, burning brightly and in full focus, they will be amongst the luckiest and fewest people on this Earth.
All my best wishes to you, and to your loved ones,
© Dr Silvia Hartmann 2004