How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

People who suffer from panic attacks have sudden feelings of terror. They often come without warning, and because of the persistent worry that another attack can occur at any moment, repeated attacks usually lead tointense anxiety between episodes. Anyone who has experienced a family member or friend with a panic disorder knows first-hand how disrupting and frightening the episode can be. Knowing how anxiety impacts their life, you want to be supportive, so here are some suggestions on how to help someone having a panic attack.

How Do I Know If Someone Is Having a Panic Attack?

Remember that someone suffering from a panic attack is showing signs of extreme anxiety, and a rush of fear with no external reason. It’s important to observe the physical symptoms that lead up to an episode of a panic attack in order to bring it under control.

  • These symptoms could include a complaint of dry mouth, shortness of breath, or a choking sensation. Other symptoms may include a racing heartbeat, sweatiness, and a feeling of light-headedness or dizziness accompanied by a feeling of weakness.
  • The person may be complaining about numbness and a tingling sensation in their hands, or experiencing hot and cold flushes.
  • They can also have a sense of unreality, impending doom and loss of control.
  • In more severe cases, complaints of smothering sensations are accompanied by chest pain that could lead them to believe they are having a stroke or even a heart attack.
  • Most strikingly, some victims may feel like they are losing their mind or even thinking they are going to die.

It’s important to note that panic attacks are more likely after stressful events, or long periods of stress such as bereavement, and use of alcohol and/or drugs exacerbate the condition.

How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

When someone you knowis experiencing a panic attack,they may not be thinking clearly, and often become very anxious. Following is a list of things you can do to help them through the sometimes frightening episode.

1. Be Supportive

A key way to make a connection with a person who is experiencing a panic attack is to offer support without judging them. You should go about this in a way that allows the person to tell you about what they are experiencing, and why. You can prompt the person by asking questions such as Can you tell me more about your experience?” This will make them feel comfortable opening up to you. You can then work with them in ways that are in conflict with what they are thinking about. A supportive statement might be as simple as saying “I’m sorry you're going through that." The most effective method on how to help someone having a panic attack is with sympathy rather than concern.

2. Stay with Them

The most important thing you can do is to be there for them when they’re undergoing a panic attack. Statements such as "This is not your fault, or that must be really hard for you, "will go a long way in keeping him/her calm. In order to diminish their experience you’ll have to be willing to listen to what they have to say and be as understanding as you can. Reaching that level of understanding involves validating what they are going through at the time. However, it doesn’t mean accommodating their fears by giving them the idea that there is something to be fearful of.

Validating their fears with statements such as "please let me know what I can do", or "that must be really hard for you" are important factors while you are genuinely supporting them.

3. Take Control

Knowing how to help someone having a panic attack also means taking control. This can be accomplished by moving the person to a quiet place and inquiring whether they have medication that will help. Remember not to make assumptions about what the person may need, and always ask them while speaking to them in short simple sentences. Encourage them, using phrases such as "You can get through this, I am proud of you or Good job." Keep them focussed by asking them questions like "Tell me what you need now." Most important, don’t panic, be predictable and avoid surprises.

4. Focus on a Task

A physical way of helping people during a panic attack is having them focus on a task. Breathing exercises can help slow their breathing by counting to 10 while breathing with them. Stay engaged by talking them through it. For example, make the statement "Concentrate on your breathing, stay in the present", and it will go a long way in helping them stay focussed on the task. Another form of physical activity might include having them repeat a simple tiring task like raising and lowering their arms, and again do it with them so you can pace them.

5. Reality Checks

Often those with panic disorders need a reality check to help bring them back to a calmer state of mind. This can be accomplishedby reminding them with comments such as "It's not the place that is bothering you; it's the thought, or what you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous." This will begin the process of diminishing the fear and helping them with what is a very stressful situation. It helps put some control in an otherwise confusing event, preventing the panic attack from getting worse.

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