Helping Somebody with Panic Attacks

(Just to note, everyone experiences a panic attack differently and some of these tips won’t work with everybody. These are basic tips on what most people find helpful.)

Okay, so if you’re here, you probably don’t understand a panic attack completely.

The typical panic attack feels like an overwhelming sensation taking over your body, leaving you feeling completely lost and out of control. In addition to this a lot of people experience tingling in the hands/feet, increased heart rate, nausea, and shaking. Usually these symptoms only last for around half an hour, but that can feel like the longest half an hour of your life if you struggle to calm yourself down.

Here are some tips on what to do if somebody you know is having a panic attack.

If you are there in person:

  • Be available. If they are clearly experiencing an attack, take 2 minutes to try to calm them down.
  • Reassurance. Although this seems silly, let them know that they will be okay and that you are there for them.
  • Make sure that the surroundings are quiet and comfortable. If you’re watching a video, pause or turn the volume down. Speak quietly. Offer them a blanket.
  • Remind them to breathe deeply and slowly.
  • Offer to make them a glass of water or some tea/hot chocolate, and make sure they have eaten.
  • Hold them. If they are okay with physical contact in the moment, hold them close. Some people aren’t okay with this as they will feel restricted and panic more, so make sure you ask.

If you aren’t there in person, but can use your phone:

  • Ask them to breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth, slowly.
  • Make sure that you don’t take too long to reply if you can tell that they’re in distress.
  • Phone them and do breathing exercises if need be.
  • Reassurance. Tell them that you’re there for them emotionally, and that they’re going to be okay.
  • Ask them to tell you what has triggered them. Get them to write it out if they can as this can aid as a distraction.
  • Remind them of apps designed for panic attacks. Good examples are “Headspace”, “Pacifica”, and “Moodpath”. These are all free on the iOS App Store.

What NOT to do:

  • Tell them they’re over-reacting or making you uncomfortable.
  • Fall asleep.
  • Tell them you cannot help. A hug or telling them to breathe calmly isn’t hard.
  • Tell them to “just calm down” – this helps nobody.
  • Offer them alcohol or drugs. This can escalate the situation into a way bigger issue than needed.

These won’t work for every single person, but these are what myself and others have suggested when experiencing a panic attack. I am by no means a professional, but someone who has panic attacks myself. These are tips for someone who has zero experience with panic attacks but wants to help a loved one de-escalate their panic.

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