A panic attack is a sudden and intense feeling of anxiety and fear. During a panic attack, a person can have mental and physical symptoms, which are not dangerous but can be very frightening.
Symptoms of a panic attack can include:
- An accelerated heart rate or palpitations
- Increased sweating
- Shaking or trembling
- Chest pain
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling disoriented or detached from oneself
They can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack or that you’ll lose control or even die, which can be frightening.
Most panic attacks last between 5 to 20 or 30 minutes. However, everyone’s experiences with panic attacks may be different.
Watching someone we know having a panic attack can be very scary and upsetting. However, there are things you can do to help:
- Stay with the person and try to stay calm.
Don’t pressure them to do more than they feel comfortable with. Let them know that you’re there for them and that they’re safe.
- Move the person to a quiet place if possible.
Encourage them to sit with you and stay with them until the panic attack is over. And let them know that you’re not leaving.
- Be patient.
And gently let them know you think they’re having a panic attack and that you’re there for them.
They may not be friendly or helpful, but remember, they may not be aware of what they’re saying and are frightened.
- Ask them what they need.
And make your sentences short and simple. Listen to their wishes, and respect their pace and what feels okay for them. If they can’t talk, that’s okay. You just need to stay with them.
5. Help and encourage them to breathe slowly.
One of the most common panic attack symptoms is rapid and heavy breathing. Try encouraging them to take slow, controlled breaths.
You can even breathe with them and ask them to follow your inhales and exhales.
You can count out loud or even tap their arms and ask them to focus on that.
You can try “square breathing”: breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and repeat.
Try it for at least three minutes.
A common misconception is asking someone to breathe into a paper bag, but don’t do it! It could be dangerous.
Just encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply.
6. Help them focus on something else.
Ask them to focus on their breathing. If that’s too much, ask them to copy and follow yours.
Ask them to watch you gently raise your arm.
Ask them to focus on your voice.
7. Encourage them to stamp their feet on the spot.
March on the spot with them and stamp your feet. It helps to ground them and bring them back to the present.
8. Try more grounding techniques.
Ask them to name five things they can see around them.
Ask them to name four things they can touch.
Ask them to name three things they can hear.
Ask them to name two things they can smell.
Ask them to name one thing they can taste.
9. Try the alphabet game.
This is another grounding technique that can help the person that is having a panic attack focus on the present.
The alphabet game involves naming something for every letter of the alphabet. It could be animals, people’s names, foods, countries, an object, etc.
These tips can help you support your friend or family member who’s having a panic attack. Try to remember that it may take time and to be patient.
Moreover, it may be overwhelming and challenging to support someone who’s having a panic attack. So it’s essential to look after your own well-being and mental health.
Remember, we need to take care of ourselves before caring for others.
Author: Magdalena Garcia
Integrative Psychotherapist BSc, PGDip, MSc (Dist), (Reg MBACP)