Helping People with Anxiety Who Wander

By Jane Weyman

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults and causing a myriad of symptoms, which can include wandering. While healthy adults can find taking a walk outdoors to be an effective way to calm down, wandering can be less than ideal when children, or elderly persons with dementia, are battling panic. The GPS technology in SmartSole (conveniently inserted into their shoes) is an excellent way for parents, guardians and carers to know where their loved ones are at all moments. In this post, we highlight other ways to help those with a tendency to wander when panic sets in.

Wandering is a Typical Trait in Anxiety

Anxiety occurs when the ‘fight or flight response’ sets in persistently, despite there being no real danger around us. That is, facing some degree of daily anxiety is acceptable; being in a chronically anxious state, on the other hand, indicates an underlying problem. When we are anxious, our breathing rate increases (i.e. we can flood our bloodstream with too much oxygen), as does our heart rate. Our muscles tense up, which can lead to pain and spasms. For some, the tendency can be to run away from a perceived fear. As noted by author of The Panic Workbook, David Carbonell, however, we do ourselves greater harm when we flee or when we otherwise try not to be anxious: “It’s the excessive self-protection which forms the most dysfunctional parts of the problem.”

How to Tackle Wandering

The first step to take when we have a loved one who wanders because of anxiety, is to ensure their safety. This can be achieved through GPS tracking, but also by avoiding wandering in the first place, through safe home interiors and exteriors. A child who is the midst of a panic attack, for instance, might panic and, attempting to flee, jump outside a high window or balcony. It is important to ensure upper windows are secure to reduce the risk of this kind of incident.

Explaining the Nature of Anxiety

Children can be taught, as David Carbonell notes, to see anxiety as the ‘trick’ it really is. That is, it can ‘fool’ them into believing they are in an actual situation of danger, when they are not. They should also understand the way their body responds to perceived threat. Taking in too many breaths can lead to an overload of oxygen; our muscles can contract, and we can, ironically, feel that we are not inhaling enough oxygen (this occurs during hyperventilation). Dizziness, pain, and faintness are also common symptoms.

A Powerful Ally: Breathing

If you don’t already have one, download a pranayamic (or controlled) breathing app, which will teach kids and older adults a valuable technique: that of controlled breathing. These apps contain free exercises which take as little as five minutes to complete. Ask your loved ones to notice the almost immediate effects that breathing abdominally produces, including the almost instantaneous decrease in their heart rate.

Wandering is a common way to deal with anxiety, but also the exact opposite of what one needs to defeat it. Facing anxiety by ‘riding the wave’, breathing abdominally, and knowing that ‘this too shall pass’ will ensure that anxiety is reduced to the ‘trick’ that it actually is.

Photo by Rene Böhmer on Unsplash