At the start of October, we were joined by Maddy Vernon-Smith, an Occupational Therapist who works within the Community Mental Health Team. She gave us her top tips.

It can be really difficult when someone you're volunteering with is experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, but there are some simple things you can do to help.

Recognising Anxiety

So many of the people who walk with a Move Mate experience anxiety, and the image below shows the most common physical signs you can look out for. People often describe having anxiety as "feeling like a heart attack". Often, the thing someone is anxious about might not be real or might not have happened, but the physical manifestations of anxiety are.

Fight or flight response image

What you can do to help someone with anxiety

Patience and understanding: The most important thing is to be patient and listen. Anxiety is often irrational but remember that the person isn't choosing to feel like this and being unable to control the thing the person is worried about is part of having anxiety. Give the person plenty of time to take things at their pace. 

You don't always need to find a solution: You might feel that you want to help someone face their fears or find a practical solution, but it can be very distressing for someone to feel they're being pressured into a situation before they feel ready. This could even make their anxiety worse. 

Talk openly: Ask the person how anxiety affects their day-to-day life, and what makes it better or worse. Listening to their experience will help you to empathise with how they feel and give you a better understanding.

Reassuring someone: If someone is showing signs of anxiety or a panic attack, stay calm and reassure them. Gently let them know that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you are there for them.

Breathe deeply: Encourage the person to breathe slowly and deeply – it can help to count out loud, or ask them to watch while you gently raise your arm up and down.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

A well-known strategy for helping someone is facilitate bringing their attention and focus back to here and now. This is a mindfulness technique and can help someone shift their attention to something tangible and real, and away from the thing they're feeling anxious about.

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

If you have specific questions about anxiety or have come across a sitauation whilst volunteering that you weren't sure how to handle, get in touch with us by emailing [email protected] or calling 01904 373017.