It can be quite distressing to see a friend or family member have a panic attack. You may feel quite helpless in this kind of situation. So today I’d like to discuss how you can help them out during this episode of panic.
Firstly it is important to understand what a panic attack is. A very well mind states that: ‘Panic attacks are characterised by a combination of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. These attacks typically begin with a sense of dread, nervousness, and fear. Feelings of anxiety often increase in intensity as the person begins to experience sensations such as, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, excessive sweating, tingling, shaking, and even nausea.’
So what can you do to help?
Things you SHOULD do:
1. Stay calm
The best thing you can do is to stay calm. If you also start to panic, the situation may escalate. Be assured that this is not a dangerous situation so you don’t need to stress. Help is also available if you need to call someone.
2. BreathingEncourage them to take three deep breaths. If they struggle to do this alone, do this with them.
Reassure them that everything is OK and that you are there for them and you are not going anywhere. This will help them feel like they are not alone.
4. Ask questions
Once they have stopped either crying or struggling to catch their breath, ask them what they think is causing them to feel panicked. Getting them talking is a really helpful tool. Once you’ve identified the cause, change the subject. You could try asking them to list: three things that they can see around them, three things they can smell, and three things they can hear. This is a very effective thing to do because it will distract them from their thoughts.
5. Be there for them
Just because their panic attack has ended does not mean they will automatically go back to feeling good again. Check in on the person you were supporting to see how they are feeling later on and let them know that you are thinking of them. This kind of support will be greatly appreciated.
6. Encourage professional help
If this is a regular occurance you may want to encourage them to seek professional help. You can advise them to speak confidentially to their GP or access counselling/ therapy service. Make sure that this doesn’t come across like you are being pushy, approach it as a concerned friend.
Things you SHOULDN’T do:
1. Don’t judge them
Even if you think their cause of panic is not justified to you, it is a real fear to them so be kind and supportive.
2. Don’t tell them to calm down
If they had a choice to calm down, they would, so respect that they can’t “just calm down” for the time being.
3. Don’t get irritated with them
There is currently nothing that they can do to stop themselves from feeling this way, so getting irritated with them is not going to help the situation.