Do’s and Don’ts of panic attacks (should/shouldn’t)

Do's and Don'ts of panic attacks (should/shouldn’t)

In this guide, we will discuss “Do’s and Don’ts of panic attacks from the perspective of someone who is assisting panic attack sufferers.

Do’s and Don’ts of panic attacks

Here we will see some of the do’s and don’ts when someone has a panic attack. For instance, when someone is having a panic attack, the recommendation is to keep a steady, consistent place while the panic attack is over. In addition, assuring them they are safe and let them know it will be over soon can get them through the episode.

However, don’t tell the person to ‘just relax’, ‘calm down’, or how they are ‘overreacting’ because it will make things worse for them. Instead, try to give assurance about how they are in a safe place and no harm will come to them. Also, you could try breathing with them by synchingthe breathing pattern with yours, keeping a steady and consistent pace. 

Do's and Don'ts of panic attacks (should/shouldn’t)

Next, we will take a look at some of the tips on both perspectives, the panic attack sufferer, or if you are someone assisting a person having a panic attack. However, consider how some of the tips may work and some may not apply in every single case since everyone can experience a panic attack in a different way, with a different set of symptoms.

In contrast, let’s talk about how dealing with anxiety is not an easy task and it may affect the people around the person suffering from anxiety. However, knowing how anxiety can strain relationships and cause stress, can actually let you anticipate and become more understanding of their situation.

A word of advice from Vanessa Ford, LCSW, CADC from anxiety.org: “A word for concerned family members and friends: don’t join in the panic. Remain calm and model a relaxed approach to bringing symptoms back down to baseline. Remember that there can often be a fear that there is a medical emergency occurring, but within reason, it may be helpful to focus on anxiety reduction first. If a loved one has a history of these attacks, perhaps you can remind them of their therapy tools for calming an attack, before seeking emergency services.”

What you should and shouldn’t do

Here we will look at the do’s and don’ts if you are the person assisting someone that suffers from panic attacks.

Do’s of panic attacks

Do let the person know that they can speak freely about it, they can be open and won’t have to fear being judged about it. It is important to let them know you are there for them and you are open to listening to them anytime they require. As indicated by the calmclinic.com:

“…that you aren’t going to judge them or change the way you think/feel about them based on anything they say – even if they say the same fear over and over again (because for many, the fears and thoughts are nearly exactly the same each time).”

Moreover, they understand you have things to attend to in your life but try to spend time with them, as much as possible and know for sure they will appreciate it tremendously. The time you spend with them will help them to have their minds occupied in something else, so they won’t think as much about their anxieties.

Do's and Don'ts of panic attacks (should/shouldn’t)

In contrast, if you are not able to spend much time with them as you’d like to, do let them know they can call you at any time they need. However, you can set some boundaries depending on your personal situation, for instance, you won’t be able to attend any calls after 6 pm because you are with your family or taking care of certain matters.

Talking on the phone and knowing someone is available for them will make a huge difference, where they can actually feel comforted. Anxiety can make people feel alone, confused, sad, lost so just letting them know you are available for them if they need to reduce the feeling.

In addition, do try to be forgiving. Sometimes, anxiety may make them become irritable meaning they can do or say something that will end up hurting you in the end. Try to be understanding and don’t take it personally. Instead, help them to identify and challenge the distorted thoughts they have that generate exaggerated fear.

Finally, do show how proud you are when they make improvements. If they have been going to therapy or you have noticed how they have changed, it doesn’t matter if it is the slightest change, make sure to let them know you notice their efforts and the change they are making. This will encourage them to keep going. 

Don ts of panic attacks

The first thing we recommend not to do is to get frustrated and irritated towards the panic attack sufferer. It can be very difficult but take a deep breath and try to stay calm. People with anxiety are very aware about how their fears shouldn’t really bother them but even if they try very hard, they can’t stop it.

In addition, don’t push them into talking about their anxiety or don’t try to bring the topic often. Even though you feel like you are helping because you are showing them you care and you are willing to listen, let them come to you on their own. Especially because some people just thinking or talking about their anxiety can trigger a panic attack.

Don’t let their anxiety affect you and this is easier being said than done. When you are helping someone battling with anxiety it is easy to feel overwhelmed, so try to work on your own anxiety and stress. In addition, don’t let them forget to take their medication or skip any doses if they are complaining about the medication, advice them to go to their physician.

Do's and Don'ts of panic attacks (should/shouldn’t)

If you have been helping someone for quite some time now and you don’t see any major improvements or changes, don’t be discouraged since it is a process that can take time. Some people can actually work on their issues faster than others and even if they have been diagnosed with the same anxiety disorder, their improvement rate will vary.

Moreover, as indicated by the calmclinic.com: “DON’T guilt trip. It can be hard, but you have to remember that those with anxiety often struggle to get out of their own head. They want to relate to you, talk to you, and be friendly, but they have an incredibly hard time dealing with the thoughts they can’t control. They take over their mind and their memories. If you push them too hard to get more attention or get them out of their bubble, they may withdraw further.”

Finally, don’t give up hope on them. We know you could feel tired, stressed, just about to give up but don’t give up just yet. There may be days where they might think there is nothing they can do and just have to learn to deal with it, meaning, they will try to push you away just to avoid dragging you with them but it is important for you to remind them there are many things left to do, motivate them to keep going, be positive and encourage them to keep going.

Do's and Don'ts of panic attacks (should/shouldn’t)

Why is this blog about Dos and Don’ts of panic attacks important?

Many people don’t know what the dos and don’ts of panic attacks are so, sometimes we tend to make mistakes with the people we love. For instance, judging is a very common mistake because we haven’t actually tried to understand what the other person is feeling or living. Panic attacks are terrifying and sometimes what they just want is someone to be there, to listen without judging.

There are many more Dos and Don’ts but you will keep adding to them along the way. Everyone is different and what helps with some people may not be useful with others so avoid assuming what they need and just ask them and you will notice how communicating will make things easier.

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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Do’s and Don’ts of panic attacks

What should you not do during a panic attack?

What you should not do during a panic attack is panic or freak out. Try to stay calm, there is nothing you should be nervous about. If you are helping someone go through a panic attack avoid telling the person to calm down or saying they are overreacting. If you are the one having the panic attack remember there is nothing to be scared of, this will pass.

What are the worst panic attack symptoms?

The worst panic attack symptoms are the sense of impending doom or danger, fear of dying or losing control, increased heart rate (as if you were having a heart attack), shortness of breath, or tightness in your throat and chest pain. However, you could think that all the symptoms of a panic attack are bad altogether.

What are the three basic types of panic attacks?

There seem to be three basic types of panic attacks:

– Unexpected or uncued panic attacks

– Situational or cued panic attacks

– Situationally predisposed panic attacks

How do you calm down a panic attack?

There are many techniques you can use to calm down during a panic attack, here are some of them:

– Deep breathing exercises.

– Acknowledge you are having a panic attack and don’t fight it.

– Close your eyes and picture your happy place.

– Practice mindfulness.

– Find an object you can focus on. Look at the color, shape, what is used for, texture, etc.

– Use muscle relaxation techniques.

What triggers a panic attack?

There are many potential triggers for panic attacks. When you are under severe stress, or you have endured a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, moving to a new place, having a child, having a medical condition, and other physical afflictions. However, sometimes it is difficult to determine what triggered the panic attack in the first place.

References 

Shaikh, F. (2018, Oct.) 12 Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Someone With Anxiety. Retrieved from calmclinic.com.

Ford, V.E. (n.d.) Your guide for getting through the anxiety. Retrieved from anxiety.org.

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.