Panic attacks aren’t just hyperventilation and crying in a corner. They’re scary for everyone involved, including the friend that’s trying to help someone through the situation. It’s a delicate issue so something as simple as a poor choice of words can cause it to escalate and get worse.
Do you know what the right words are? Do you know what it takes to get someone through an attack? If your answer is no, it’s okay, we know how it’s done.
Here are just a few tips on how to help someone having a panic attack going from what it is, up to what you should and shouldn’t do with someone experiencing it.
1. What is a Panic Attack
A panic attack is a sudden onslaught of intense fear. They can come at any time for what feels like any reason and last anywhere between 10-25 minutes. It’s frightening to witness and even more frightening to suffer through.
The panic will continue usually until what is causing the person’s panic attack is over. It can be hard to deal with by themselves, which is where a friend comes in.
2. What Are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack
There are both physical and emotional symptoms to a panic attack that you will have to distinguish in order to help. We’re going to go over just a few of them briefly.
They may break out in a cold sweat, breath heavy with any attempt at sentences failing, have a heavy pressure in their chest as well as a fast heart rate, nausea, and feeling trapped.
These are a lot of the same symptoms that someone may have when they’re scared, but for a person having a panic attack, they might not even know what’s causing it. This makes it that much scarier.
3. What to Do if a Friend is Having One
If you notice your friend exhibit any of those symptoms, it’s time to spring into action. A panic attack is nothing to take lightly and your help could make all the difference.
Get Them Away from What’s Causing It
Even through the heavy breathing sometimes people can get out a few sentences to let you know what’s causing the anxiety. If you can piece together the cause, get them out as soon as possible.
Sometimes even if what triggered the attack isn’t in the room with them, lights, sounds, and other environmental factors can be too much and make things worse. In this case, you’ll want to take them somewhere quiet where they can work through it with your assistance.
Encourage them to Breath
When someone is having a panic attack it will be hard for them to breath. You want to encourage them to breathe the entire time. You’ll want to tell them to take a deep breath in for at least 4 seconds and then let it out for 4 more.
Certain smells can change the mood of some people. It’s for this reason that having them smell lavender could calm them down. You can either put a little bit of lavender oil on their hand and let them smell it or put it on a cotton ball.
Keep a Conversation Going
You never want to try and get them into a long conversation because that could overwhelm them more, but you want to at least keep them focused on you.
You can just casually bring up something that you know they are interested in. If it works, you can get their mind off of what’s causing the anxiety. It will be a lot easier to move them to another room this way.
Stay with Them
Do not leave them. It will be hard for them to handle it on their own let alone getting to another room to calm themselves down. This is why the best thing you can do is stick around.
They may try to push you away, but that’s just the anxiety causing them to freak out. Don’t let them talk you down. Making them suffer through it alone will just make the symptoms worse in the end.
If you manage to calm them down to a calmer state, try to get them to do a little bit of light exercise. Exercise releases endorphins that can keep the body calm.
You could probably just take them out for a small walk to get those endorphins pumping. It’s not recommended to make them do too much more than that in terms of exercise. They probably won’t have the energy to exert themselves past a light walk.
You can take this a step further and also have them do mindfulness exercises. These can help ground the person and help them focus on recovering. This could be something like holding two different items and identifying them via texture.
Give Them Something to Concentrate on
Just like talking to someone, you can easily get someone to focus on an object that’s close to them to make them calm down. If someone suffers from attacks frequently they might even keep this item with them.
If they have the item on them, find it and if they don’t, find something that they would be interested in and hand it to them. This could be anything from a piece of jewelry to a blanket.
Find a Word for them to Repeat
Come up with a word that could mean something to them, this could be a religious phrase or another calming word. Have them repeat it over and over until the attack passes.
Having this word can help them regulate their breathing, relax their muscles, and give them their focus back. It’s worth trying out.
Helpful Things To Say
There are many phrases that you can use that will be helpful in stopping a panic attack. Here are a few of those phrases
- “Tell me what you need”
- “Concentrate on your breathing”
- “You can get through this”
- “It’s not this room that’s bothering you, it’s what you’re feeling”
- “I’m so proud of you”
The wrong words can make the situation escalate, so you have to know what to say.
For example, if a customer starts giving the worker with anxiety a few issues, the supervisor can step in when they notice the signs. If the worker starts having an attack right there on the floor, they can help you get them away.
When you have anxiety, it’s best to get a support group in order. There is nothing wrong with them adding their boss to it. If the person doesn’t calm down soon, that will be an extra person to call 911 and get help as well.
4. What Not to Do
Just like there are a bunch of things that you should do when a loved one is having a panic attack, there are also a bunch of things that you really shouldn’t do. These things will cause the situation to escalate past being able to handle it without a professional intervening.
Don’t Freak Out
You freaking out with them won’t stop a panic attack. You panicking with them will only add fuel to the fire honestly.
Make sure to take a deep breath and examine the situation before you jump in and act. This will ensure that you’re able to help them to the best of your abilities. For example, if you’re freaking out with them, you may forget that they typically take medication for their attacks.
Don’t Let Them Fool You
Most people who are suffering from a panic attack or some other form of anxiety don’t want you to worry about them. They will tell you all day that there is nothing wrong with them.
If you notice the beginning symptoms of a panic attack don’t let them tell you that they are fine. Don’t let them push you away or talk you out of helping them. As much as they are denying the oncoming attack, they can’t stop it just by telling you that they’re fine. They’ll need you.
Don’t Tell Them to Calm Themselves
Just telling someone to calm down when they are having a panic attack is like telling a dog not to eat a steak that’s right in front of their face. It does nothing.
There is more to getting over an attack than just calming down. It’s going to take them a bit to get over it and telling them to do so will just make the attack worse.
If you have a choice between telling them to calm down, or not saying anything at all, not saying anything would be better.
Another thing that can make it worse is asking them what’s wrong. Chances are, they don’t even know what’s wrong. Anything can trigger a panic attack, there’s no telling what in the room caused it.
By asking them what’s wrong, you cause them to have to think about what the trigger might have been, which will just make them feel worse. This is another one of those instances where if you have a choice between saying this or nothing at all, say nothing.
Don’t Brush it Off
A panic attack might not be a big deal to you, but it is a huge deal to the person who is having it. Yeah, they might have a lot of them but that doesn’t mean any one of them wasn’t as traumatizing as the last.
Even if you think what’s triggering the panic attack is silly don’t tell them that. If they are having an attack over a dropped pudding cup, it’s not your place to judge, just help.
Don’t Try to Get Them to Imagine Something to Calm Them Down
You might have heard that if someone is having an attack that it’s a good idea to have them imagine themselves in a happy place. This method doesn’t work usually.
The problem is that when you’re in the middle of a panic attack, you can barely breath, let alone think. If you tell them to go to their happy place, chances are they won’t be able to put themselves there.
There is also the fact that if you’re obviously trying to calm them down like this, they will know what you’re doing which will just make it worse.
Don’t Get Annoyed
The absolute worse thing you could do is to get annoyed with someone when they are in the middle of a panic attack. They most likely already feel bad enough because you’re having to help them. Don’t make them feel worse.
The person having the attack needs your utmost understanding and care. They trust you to help them in their time of need, being judgemental or annoyed will just throw that back into their face.
Tips On How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack
Someone is at their most vulnerable when they are having a panic attack. Their chest feels tight, they can’t breathe, it almost feels like they are having a heart attack. It’s up to you to know how to help someone having a panic attack to help them out.
You need to be understanding, sincere, and above else, keep a cool head yourself. It’s scary for you but imagine how scary it is for the person actually having the attack.
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