How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack (In 4 Simple Steps)
One of the worst feelings anyone can experience is losing control of their senses. Panic attacks do that to you. Not only can panic attacks be a terrifying experience for the one going through them, but they can also spike a tendril of fear in their loved ones. During those terrifying moments, all you can think about is how to help your loved one without worsening their attack.
Panic attacks can be characterized by a sudden and intense sense of fear, rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling limbs, and shortness of breath. And that’s to name a few!
The whole experience can be overwhelming and can leave the one experiencing panic attacks feeling helpless and out of control. As loved ones, we should know how to help someone having a panic attack and aid in their recovery.
With the right guidance, we can help our loved ones overcome their panic and regain their sense of control. In this blog, I’ll be listing 4 simple steps with which you can help someone with a panic attack. We’ll also explore what not to do and how you can take care of yourself while helping your loved one.
How To Help Someone Having A Panic Attack?
1. First, Label The Experience
The first thing you need to do to help someone with a panic attack is to label the experience. Gently tell your loved one that they are having a panic attack. This will help your loved one understand what’s happening and remove the unknown factor from the experience.
Now, you need to keep in mind that panic attacks can last anywhere between 5 minutes to 30 minutes (depending on the severity of the disorder). However, the worst of the symptoms might calm within 10–15 minutes too.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of panic attacks you need to look for and calm;
- Intense fear
- Feeling gloomy
- Fear of death
- Feeling out of control
- Sweating and shaking
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath or trouble drawing a breath
- Chest pain
These symptoms may also vary depending on the severity of the disorder, so if it’s your first time helping someone with a panic disorder, it’s recommended that you speak to a professional to be clear on what to look for.
2. Second, Be Calm
Now, if you’re helping someone with a panic attack, you cannot panic. You have to remain calm even if you’re distressed and feel uneasy. You can start by taking deep breaths and reminding yourself that it is going to pass soon. If the situation becomes too much, consider either removing yourself from the situation or seeking professional help.
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Secondly, the one having a panic attack needs a calm person who can remind them that it’s all temporary. If you’re calm and talk to your panicking loved one in a soothing voice, ten they’ll calm down sooner.
Here are some things you can try
- Reassure them that they are not alone
- Remind them that the experience will not last for long
- Tell them that they are safe and protected
3. Third, Respect Their Space
Now, when having a panic attack, your brain goes into hyperarousal where you are on high alert. This means that everything around you becomes too much, and you become overstimulated – every touch, noise, sight, etc. – can put you in sensory overload. If you’re helping someone with a panic attack, then you need to keep in mind that they might need some space too.
Once you remind your loved one about their symptoms, give them space until they feel calm. Your loved one may ask you to stay with them and if this happens, then make sure you still give them enough space so that they don’t feel crowded.
You can also try to distract them with your plans or talk to them about anything that comes to your mind. You have to understand that a panic attack is always sudden and not your loved one’s fault. Make sure that your loved one does not feel like it’s their fault the panic attack happened.
4. Lastly, Be Empathetic
When someone is having a panic attack, you need to remain calm and empathetic, but you don’t want to convey the message that having a panic attack means that your loved one is weak or invalid in their identity. Having panic attacks does not mean that someone is dangerous, harmful, or even needs rescuing.
So instead of offering empty words and reassurance, help them cope with their panic attack by offering empathetic statements. Something that empowers them to deal with the panic attack by themselves.
You can try saying;
- “You can work through your symptoms.”
- “I know it’s uncomfortable, but you can accept these feelings.”
- “Let the panic roll over you until it passes. It’ll be over soon.”
If you’re helping them via text messaging, here’s what you can do;
To help someone having a panic attack via text, you can offer supportive sentences such as;
- “It’s going to pass soon. Panic is temporary.”
- “Hang in there. You’re doing great.”
- “I know you’ll get through this.”
Make sure you don’t make a big deal of the symptoms or the situation. Your role is to help them work through their panic and remind them that they can handle this. You can offer advice or additional support after they’ve calmed down.
What NOT To Say or Do!
If you’re helping someone having a panic attack, then don’t ask them if they are doing OK. This kind of questioning can be invalidating and can enforce the thinking that panic attacks are dangerous.
Avoid saying phrases such as;
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “You can snap out of it.”
- “This is nothing. You’re fine.”
- “I know how you’re feeling.”
- “Why are you so upset over such a small thing?”
- “What’s there to be scared of?”
Also, do NOT offer any kind of alcoholic substance to them. You might think that giving a sedative-like substance may help them calm down, but it can worsen the panic attack, so be certain that you don’t offer any kind of substance to them. Recreational drugs or alcohol can even increase the risk of paranoia and make the feeling of impending doom worse.
So, instead of helping them, you’re only putting your loved one at a higher risk!
Take Care of Yourself While Supporting someone having a panic attack
Helping and supporting someone having a panic attack can be overwhelming and stressful for you – the helper – too. So once your loved one has calmed down significantly, take some time to care for yourself too.
Try to not push yourself beyond your limits and if you have the rest of the day to look forward to, then go easy on yourself. Maybe try some gentle yoga, meditation, or journaling to calm your erratic thoughts. You can also indulge yourself in a warm bubble bath just to calm yourself down.
If caring for a friend having a panic attack is interfering with your quality of life, then you can speak to a professional and take their advice on what you can do going forward. A therapist can give you tips on how to care for someone with a panic attack while taking care of yourself at the same time.
Remember, you can only care and love someone when you care and love yourself too. You can’t give anything if you don’t have it. So, save some self-care for yourself while replenishing your care for others.
Helping someone having a panic attack can be overwhelming for you as well as the one experiencing it. If you’re helping a friend with a panic attack then remember to label the experience as panic, remain calm, give them the space they might need, and most of all, stay empathetic and understanding toward their experience.
Make sure you avoid aggravating their panic by offering alcohol or recreational drugs. Also, avoid saying anything that will make their panic seem dangerous, harmful, and invalidating.
Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself too. Helping someone with a panic attack will only be successful if you’re calm and composed. If your cup is empty, what will you give to others? Care for care, after all!
I hope this blog will help you know what to do and how to help someone having a panic attack. For more, you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on social media. You can also share your tips and thoughts in the comments section below.