How to help someone who is having a panic attack

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. Breathing

Encourage them to take three deep breaths. If they struggle to do this alone, do this with them.

3. Reassurance

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.

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10 Comments

  1. nataliejeanbug

    The thing about panic attacks is they can be so irrational and that’s the part sometimes i fear my loved one doesn’t understand. My pain causes him stress which in end makes me feel worse which then makes him feel worse. The cycle is vicious and complicated. Raising awareness of how to help and what we’re going through is so important.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wellbean blog

      Yes I agree, how do you explain to someone what’s going on in your head when you’re in a state of panic? You feel out of control.

      Like

      1. nataliejeanbug

        Exactly, I’m stuck in the urge to just shut down and push him out and pretend everything is okay. It seems easier to do that then go through the frustration of trying to have him him help me when he can’t do much but help me pull through the panic.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wellbean blog

        Have you considered writing him a letter? When you feel calm explaining how you feel. Honesty is the way forward, you don’t have to pretend you’re okay when you’re not, if he truly loves you he will be sympathetic. Try and help him understand. But I know how hard it is on both sides and I don’t want to tell you what to do. Just know that you’re not alone ❤️

        Like

      3. nataliejeanbug

        I’m very open but what happens is it gets more confusing because it appears simple to him but complicated to me. I’m sure eventually we will figure it out. I won’t give up, I’m just exhausted, he’s just exhausted. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment ❤

        Liked by 2 people

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