How to communicate with someone having a panic attack?

How to communicate with someone having a panic attack?

In this guide, we will discuss How to communicate with someone having a panic attack, some of the things you could do, and some others you could avoid when assisting someone who is having a panic attack. Also, we will see what a panic attack is, symptoms, and what can potentially cause a panic attack.

How to communicate with someone having a panic attack?

If you would like to communicate with someone having a panic attack remember to stay calm and use a monotone and peaceful tone of voice. If you are helping someone for the first time, ask them to describe what is happening, and if they have had a panic attack before. In addition, listen to what they are saying and ask them if there is anything they need (i.e. their medication).

Moreover, reassure them they are safe, how you will not go anywhere and you will stay with them until the panic attack is over. Talk to them in a clear, slow, and concise way, using short sentences. 

However, it is very common people who are experiencing a panic attack won’t necessarily let you know ‘I am having a panic attack’ and sometimes they don’t even know they are experiencing one, instead they think they have some kind of health issue such as heart problems or having a heart attack.

How to communicate with someone having a panic attack?

As indicated by health.nsw.gov.au,  “The signs of a panic attack that you might see include sweating, shaking or trembling. The person may have difficulty breathing, chest pain, feel that their heart is racing, feel faint or be unsteady on their feet.”

Subsequently, you may be able to see some of the signs and symptoms but it is not always the case. Some people are very good at concealing their panic attack so you won’t notice they are having one. However, if you do notice someone is having a panic attack, staying calm is the key to support them and you could try to:

  • Encourage them to change their breathing pattern and synch it to yours. Here it is extremely helpful if you breathe with them.
  • Be patient and understanding without sounding judgy or accusing. 
  • Show your entire support during the panic attack, even if you just stay next to them and don’t say anything.

Once you learn how to communicate with someone having panic attacks, you can then help them over the phone easily.

Let’s take a look at what a panic attack is and see not only some of the physical sensations but also some of the thoughts someone having a panic attack can have.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack can be described as a “sudden rush of intense anxiety or fear together with a surge of frightening physical sensations and thoughts”, according to lifeline.org.au.

Moreover, it comes accompanied by some physical sensations such as:

  • Rapid heart rate, pounding heart, or heart palpitations.
  • Feeling of fainting or dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Numbness or a tingling sensation.
  • Seating.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Nausea.
  • Upset stomach.

Also, when someone experiences a panic attack they may have the feeling of dying, about to have a heart attack or a stroke, going crazy or out of control, among others. As you can tell by now, panic attacks can be short but they are considered very frightening and scary and they can seem to come ‘out of the blue’.

It is believed many people will have at least one or two panic attacks in their lives but when it becomes recurrent, it is considered a panic disorder. Many people will start to live their lives according to the panic attacks meaning they will begin to restrict their lives and change their behavior to avoid the attacks. For instance, many people decide they will stop going out, going to public places, or even avoid taking public transportation.

How to communicate with someone having a panic attack?

What causes panic attacks and panic disorder?

The reason behind the attacks is not always clear but some people are more prone to developing panic attacks due to their family history. However, it is believed that someone who experiences a panic attack for the first time may have been exposed to constant stress in their day to day activities or they may have endured a painful, emotional, or traumatic experience.

According to lifeline.org.au: “Following the first attack, people with a panic disorder start to

pay more attention to their physical symptoms. They often start to become afraid of their own physical reactions. Once this happens, any change that produces a similar physical reaction such as exercise, strong emotion, or even a change in the temperature, can trigger a panic attack.”

How to communicate with someone having a panic attack?

Many people will go to their doctor for a physical check-up and this will actually help them rule out any physical health problems that may have been undetected for quite some time. However, if your doctor is not able to find any physical problems you can remind yourself of this next time you are having a panic attack meaning you could face it in a different light. Acknowledge it, don’t fight it.

What can I do?

If you are helping someone go through a panic attack then staying calm is the best way to start. Panic attacks may not last long but the time perception can change for someone having an attack meaning they can think they have had it for longer than it really was, because it is felt with such intensity.

It is normal if you feel confused or even scared yourself, however, try to modulate your voice talking to them in a calm and peaceful tone of voice. Try saying things as ‘I won’t leave you, I am here if you need me’, ‘I’m sure you feel terrified and scared but remember it won’t last long’ or ‘you are in a safe place and you are safe’. 

How to communicate with someone having a panic attack?

Moreover, you can try to ask them how you can help. For instance, if they are taking medication and they need it at that moment, offer to get it for them but be prepared for a short (not too detailed) response. However, as indicated by Crystal Raypole from Healthline, “During an attack, however, they might find it harder to communicate this. Consider asking in advance how you can offer assistance if they experience an attack around you.”

Subsequently, make sure to avoid asking too many questions and try to remain neutral without taking what they say personally. Moreover, it is a possibility they may ask you to leave or give them space, so take a few steps back and stay nearby so you can keep an eye on what is happening and just in case they change their mind.

Why is this blog about How to communicate with someone having a panic attack important?

When communicating with someone having a panic attack it is important to remember to have a calm and peaceful tone of voice to give them reassurance that everything will be ok. Moreover, don’t assume what they need but ask them. For instance, if they take medicine for the panic attacks ask them if they need it and how you can get it. However, remember it would be difficult to communicate clearly with them if they are having a panic attack. Be patient, supportive, and stay calm. Also,  breathing is very important so try to shift their breathing pattern synching it to your breathing pattern by doing deep breathing exercises with them. 

Remember, a panic attack is lived with intense fear which generates a lot of physical reactions and symptoms as well as thoughts that can make the person think they are about to die. Try to talk to them in a short and concise way, avoiding complicated questions that they may not be able to answer at that specific moment. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about How to communicate with someone having a panic attack

How do you talk someone out of a panic attack?

If you want to talk someone out of a panic attack consider keeping a calm and peaceful tone of voice. If the person takes medicine during a panic attack, ask or offer to get it for them. Moreover, don’t make any assumptions and ask the person if they need something but don’t start making a lot of questions, speak to them in short, simple sentences.

What should you not do when someone is having a panic attack?

If someone is having a panic attack avoid limiting their movements because some people tend to feel claustrophobic in situations like this making things worse. Also, don’t call an ambulance, it is not necessary even if the person feels like dying, paramedics won’t be able to do anything really. In addition, avoid bombarding them with questions, we know you may be curious as to what is happening but sometimes they don’t even have the answer to the questions. 

How do you calm someone with anxiety?

If you want to calm someone with anxiety:

– Do remind them that they are not obliged to stay in the place they are.

– Do assure them there is nothing to be afraid of and they are in a safe place.

– Do tell them this shall pass, it is only temporary.

– Do encourage them to breathe and try helping them synch their breathing pattern with yours.

– Do attempt to have an engaging conversation with them that can distract them from the panic attack.

– Do stay with them throughout the panic attack unless they explicitly say they don’t.

Should you hug someone having a panic attack?

Don’t assume you should hug someone having a panic attack, ask them first. The same happens with holding their hand or touching them in the back or arm. Sometimes hugging or touching can make things worse because they may feel constricted or limited in their movement which can make them feel claustrophobic. 

How do you know it’s a panic attack?

There are some signs and symptoms that will tell you it is a panic attack. For example, some of the symptoms include:

– Feeling about to faint or dizzy

– Sweating

– Shaking or trembling

– Fear of losing control or going crazy

– Upset stomach

– Gastrointestinal issues

– Shortness of breath

References 

Health.nsw.gov.au: “How can I communicate with someone experiencing a panic attack?”

Raypole, C. (2020, Jan.) How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack. Retrieved from healthline.com.

Daniela Paez

Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.