How to help someone having a panic attack?

How to help someone having a panic attack?

In this brief guide, we will cover how to help someone who is having a panic attack, what to do to help them through the panic attack and what aid you can provide after the panic attack is over if you have an ongoing relationship with them.

How to help someone having a panic attack?

“How to help someone having a panic attack?” is the question you have been asking yourself since you have seen someone having a panic attack and you have felt that you need to do something about it. Before you learn ways of helping someone with panic attacks, you should learn how to communicate with someone who is having a panic attack, because communication is the key here.

Here are some tips you can follow that may help:

  1. Stay with the person and keep calm 
  2. If the person takes medicine during an attack offer it to them 
  3. Ask them, Don’t make assumptions about what they need
  4. Be concise, talk to the person using simple sentences 
  5. Be predictable, avoiding any unexpected and sudden moves
  6. Count slowly to 10 with them, this will help slow their breathing rate 
How to help someone having a panic attack?

It is important to remind the person having a panic attack that they are in no way obligated to stay where they are. They can leave if they are panicking about something or feel uncomfortable. Absolutely don’t pressure them to do something they don’t want to do.

Provide them with comfort and assurance with verbalizations such as “You can get through this”, “I am very proud of you, keep up the good work”, “concentrate on your breathing, stay with me”, “it is the thought that is bothering you, not the place”. 

Someone experiencing a panic attack will probably find it a lot harder to rationalize the fact that there’s no real reason to be panicking.

Remind them they are completely safe and that you are there to help them get through their panic attacks. Do let them know that it’s only temporary. Panic attacks don’t and will never last forever. Despite the terrible mental state the sufferer might be in, it’s comforting to know that it will go away soon. Always help them practice breathing exercises. 

You should also learn ways of how to help someone breathe during a panic attack, to keep them calm and their body properly oxygenated.

The result of following these simple steps is to: 

  • Reduce the physical activation and the amount of stress the person is having at the moment of the panic attack.
  • It prevents the panic attack from getting worse.
  • It helps to give them some sense of control over the situation. 

Understanding anxiety and panic attacks

You may have witnessed a panic attack or many but they still seem to surprise you. What is a panic attack?

Well, let’s start by understanding what anxiety is. It is commonly described as an irrational and intense fear over something or someone. However, this must not get confused with nervousness that is actually experienced by everyone in normal situations. Although, both can cause similar symptoms, feeling nervous tends to be temporary and event-related. 

For instance, nervousness can manifest when you are having a job interview or an oral presentation, the cause can be identified. But when you have a panic attack, many times the cause is still unknown or unidentified. It can be related to anything or everything, for instance, at a movie theater. 

As a panic attack sufferer describes “Panic attacks are short bursts of heightened anxiety that can often come out of nowhere. While they can only last for up to around 25 minutes or as little as 5 minutes, they can come and go in a continuous loop until whatever is causing them is resolved. This is particularly difficult and scary when the person isn’t aware of what’s causing them to panic in the first place (medium.com)”. 

How to help someone having a panic attack?

Subsequently, it is important to understand what it means to be living by an anxiety disorder, it can become more stressful, frustrating and overwhelming. Try to stay supportive and understanding, this can actually make a difference when dealing with such a debilitating and disabling condition. 

What should I do?

The first thing you need to do when witnessing a panic attack is staying calm. We now the situation can be overwhelming and you can also go into panic mode but if you stay calm you can be a model for your friend or relative. 

Additionally, stay with them until the panic attack is over. Most panic attacks are said to last between 20 to 30 minutes. 

Finally, put your best understanding and positive face and attitude. When they are having an attack, try asking short questions about what is causing the attack to distract them from the situation. According to WebMD, you could ask the following questions:

  • How many times have you gone through this?
  • What did you think was going to happen?
  • What actually happened?

Additionally, we now this can cause a lot of distress on your relationship with the person that is suffering from panic attacks and it can become quite exhausting and difficult your interactions. Make sure you also take care of yourself in the process:

  • Set boundaries. Set boundaries about what you are and you are not willing to do to help them. For example, you have reassured that you are there for them when they need someone to talk to but if you are busy and can’t be available to answer their call or you can’t see them, then they need to understand you also have things to do. 
  • Make sure you keep having a social life. Having someone in your life that experiences panic attacks or has an anxiety disorder can make you adapt to them making you less prone to go out or have an active social life. However, you shouldn’t stop living your life the way you have been. 
  • If helping them cope with their anxiety and panic attacks if weighing you down then try talking to someone about what you are feeling. For instance, you can talk to a relative or a friend and if things get too overwhelming to handle, you can even consider going to see a mental health professional. 

If you’re having a panic attack and there are people around you, know how to hold someone when having a panic attack.

Are there any treatment options?

Good news, there are some treatment options you can encourage your loved one to consider. For instance, one of the treatment options would be exposure therapy. When using this therapy, your loved one will be confronted gradually to the source of their fear or what provokes panic attacks in a controlled environment. 

How to help someone having a panic attack?

They will, in turn, learn how to deal with what they are thinking and feeling prior to a panic attack and how to respond to it. 

Another treatment option would be Cognitive Therapy or CBT. This therapy teaches different ways of modifying irrational thoughts and then subsequently modifying behavior. 

Additionally, if nothing seems to work and their anxiety keeps getting worse, a doctor may consider prescribing antianxiety meds to help them with their panic attacks. 

Things you should not do

We have discussed thing that you should do to help someone that is having a panic attack. Here we name a few things that are recommended to avoid:

  • Avoid using phrases such as “Calm down” or “just relax” because there is a chance this will only make the anxiety worse. Instead use phrases such as “I know it can be scary but I am here for you” or “This won’t last forever, try to breathe with me, let’s count together”. 
  • Avoid making too many questions: when asking someone about why they are having a panic attack it is best to keep it simple and short. Try leaving the questions for later, when they are calm and relaxed. 
  • Avoid assuming they are used to it: the person you are trying to help may have been through the 30th panic attack this year alone but do not assume they are used to it by now. Every panic attack is still felt with such intensity and traumatizing effect as the previous one. Try not to ignore any of the panic attacks, no matter what the circumstances are. 
  • Don’t get angry or irritated: it may sound obvious but sometimes we forget it can be very detrimental when helping someone that is having a panic attack. When someone is having a panic attack they are probably thinking about many things at the same time, including inconveniencing people around them or becoming a bigger problem for them. 

Getting angry or irritated at them will cause even more distress to their situation and this can actually be detrimental to your relationship with them. 

How to help someone having a panic attack?

Why is this blog about “How to help someone having a panic attack” important?

You may be familiar already with a panic attack or you have experienced your first recently but didn’t know exactly what to do, so you tried your best. Here we discussed some useful tips and advice that can help you next time a friend or a relative has another panic attack. 

Remember, the most important thing to consider is to be supportive, avoid criticizing and being judgemental, it causes enough stress already to have an anxiety disorder or panic attacks. 

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below. 

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

Recommended reading

  • Anxiety: Panicking about Panic: A powerful, self-help guide for those suffering from an Anxiety or Panic Disorder (Panic Attacks, Panic Attack Book)
  • Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast 
  • Anxiety No More: Master Your Emotions and Take Charge of Your Anxiety and Panic Attacks (Mindfulness, Gratitude, Meditation Techniques, Stress, Calmness, Relaxation, Happiness)
  • COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY: GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS: Rewire Your Brain to Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Panic Attacks
  • Panic Attacks Workbook: A Guided Program for Beating the Panic Trick

References

Healthlinkbc.ca

Webmd.com

Medium.com

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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.