I have suffered from panic attacks for about thirty years and still they scare the life out of me, with their unpredictability and suddenness. I am no expert on panic attacks but I do know how I feel when they hit me. I am writing this post from a different angle to try and help those of you who have a friend or loved one who suffers from these debilitating events.
I know from experience, that those of you who witness someone in full flow having a panic attack often feel helpless and frustration at knowing what to do for the best. I’m sure it can be scary to watch a loved one suddenly crumble before your eyes, and I know if you love that person, you just want to do the right thing and take care of them.
Well, here are my top tips for helping someone in the middle of a full blown panic attack. Please be aware if you are unsure of the person’s physical condition, then to be on the safe side please call for expert medical help.
When you see someone start to panic remain calm. You need to be that calming, strong person that the person in panic can look to for reassurance and comfort. Even if you feel shocked and upset by what is happening, do NOT show it. Nothing aggravates panic more, than MORE panic. So be calm.
Do not ignore the person in a panic, as that makes them feel uncomfortable and awkward. Acknowledge what is happening. Reassure them that they are safe and that they will be OK.
A person in panic needs space away from crowds and they need to feel they have room to breathe. Do not bring attention to the person having a panic. The less people that know about it, the better it is for them. If a crowd of people gather round, even if they are been helpful, ask them to move away gently. Give the person in panic space and a quiet place to recover.
Sit with the person in panic, but don’t get too close as this may be a trigger. Ask them if it’s OK if you sit close to them. Ask them if you can hold their hand. Whatever their response is, please respect it. The person in panic is glad you are there but they may just need more breathing space.
Stay with them, quietly and calmly. Don’t make the event a big issue and don’t discuss it in great detail.
Distract the person in panic. Talk about lovely things, the sunshine, the flowers you can see, the birds you can hear, the grass you can feel below your feet. Mindfulness is a successful way of helping reduce the severity of panic attacks and should be used if possible. Mindfulness is simply being aware of our surroundings, of being here in the present moment, so looking at the world around you such as the flowers, trees etc is a great way to help the person in panic. Help them focus on their surroundings in a calm and gentle manner.
Ask the person in panic if there is anything you can do to help them. Do they need water ? Chewing gum ? Or something sweet to eat? A walk ? Take your lead from them. Don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to do.
Keep reminding them that they won’t feel like this forever. They will eventually come round and be calm again. ( Panic attacks do eventually burn out naturally )
NEVER tell a person in panic to ‘get over it’ or to ‘man up’. Panic and anxiety is a real issue that is seriously debilitating. The person in panic does not want to feel like this, They are not responsible for what is happening and just need love and reassurance, without judgement.
Finally, remember they are not looking to you to fix their anxiety issue, they are simply looking for reassurance, empathy and understanding. Sometimes a simple hug and an offer to hold their hand means the world to them and will help them feel better about themselves.
I hope this short post will help those of you that know someone who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. I know it can be difficult for a person who has never experienced panic to fully understand someone who does. My husband has had to deal with my panic attacks and at times was unsure what to do for the best. I do understand the dilemma that you face.
Please comment below with your own experiences of either having a panic attack or supporting someone in panic. What helped or hindered you ? I would love to hear some of your stories.
And if any of my friends are reading this and have supported me in the past during an attack, then please know I appreciate everything you did for me and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Until next time dear friends
For more help and advice on anxiety the following two organisations are my favourites.