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How to Help Someone Who Is Having a Panic Attack

by Rowan Marley 4 years ago in panic attacks
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Someone you know is having a panic attack. What can YOU do to help?

Anyone who has ever met me can tell you that I have extreme anxiety dealing with work. It's so bad, I've been known to take walking breaks so that I can keep myself together—and at times, that doesn't necessarily work too well, either.

Once in a while, I'll have my chest tighten up. I'll feel like I'm about to burst into tears as the air escapes my lungs. I'll feel like the world is closing in on me, leaving me helpless and powerless to do anything to lift myself up.

When I get this way, the world itself feels like it's about to end. Every wall I have built collapses, and my vulnerabilities, insecurities, and loneliness will come out full-force. I will feel worthless and cornered like an animal being dragged to slaughter by its neck.

In other words, I'll have a panic attack. Panic attacks are hard to describe unless you've experienced them yourself. The most accurate statement I can offer is that they aren't pleasant.

It's not fun—for me or anyone around me. When you see someone who's having a panic attack, it's no laughing matter. It's hard for someone to know what to do in order to help. Speaking from personal experience, here's how to help someone out when they experience an anxiety attack in front of you.

Try to get the sufferer out of a public place, if possible.

You know what's the only thing that's worse than a panic attack or public meltdown? Having it happen while people are around you, staring at you, and wondering what's wrong with you. It's awful, and at times, pretty traumatic.

If you can, get the panicking person away from public eyes. Ideally, you can take them home so that they can handle their anxiety attack in a familiar, comfortable setting.

Don't panic alongside them.

It's so tempting to freak out when you see someone in the middle of a panic attack, but it's the absolute worst thing you can do. Spazzing out alongside them will only make the panic attack worse, and make them even more rattled than they already are.

Instead, stay calm and composed. Talk with a soothing tone of voice. Do not make sudden movements, start shouting, or start crying around them. It will only make things worse.

Also, don't get annoyed or angry with the sufferer.

The absolute worst thing you can do to a person who's in the middle of a panic attack is to get angry with them or show annoyance with them. The only thing that this does is make the sufferer feel guilty—which in turn, puts them in an even worse position.

You don't have to understand why they're panicking. You don't have to understand why they lost control. What you do have to understand, though, is that they are suffering, and it's not in their control.

If the person has panic attack medication, grab it and give it to them.

A lot of people with coping with Panic Disorder or similar anxiety disorders are on prescription medicines that help them cope. If you notice someone having a panic attack or appearing like they're on the verge of one, the best thing you can do is ask where they keep their medicine.

Find their medication and give it to them. They will appreciate it deeply.

If your friend has dissociative panic attacks, then remind them about who they are, that this has happened before, and that it'll pass.

Though rare, some people will dissociate when they have a panic attack. This means that they may lose their grip on reality, may forget who they are, or may forget where they are. It's terrifying to watch, especially if you've never seen someone dissociate before.

Understand that dissociation with a panic attack can happen, particularly if the sufferer has PTSD or DID. The person with a panic attack will not hurt you. You just need to calmly tell them who they are, where they are, and that this has happened to them before.

Staying calm is key here. The more you explain the situation to them, the better off they will be.

Though they may frustrate the person having a panic attack, the truth is that breathing exercises are the easiest way to help ground a person who is dealing with an anxiety attack.

If you aren't sure what breathing exercises to do, urge your friend to sync their breathing with yours. Take slow, deep breaths. Encourage your friend and tell them that they're doing well.

Sometimes, a loose hug can help—but always ask first.

Every panic attack is different, and it's important to realize that. Some people will not handle touch very well, while others crave it as a way to feel less stressed out.

If you feel comfortable doing so, ask the person having an attack if they want a hug. If they do, hug it out with a loose hug. If they seem to calm down, tighten the hug a little and say something soothing.

Don't bail on them.

Panic attacks are brutal and are easily exacerbated by being alone or having people run away when they happen. I mean, wouldn't you feel even worse if you were worried about scaring people away due to something that's out of your control?

Even if it's uncomfortable for you, please do not leave a person experiencing a panic attack alone. It's way worse for them than it is for you, I promise.

Distract, uplift, and mellow them out.

Panic attacks are characterized by a flood of negative thoughts that turn into a rush of anxiety so powerful, they cause physical symptoms. This means that the best way to help a person having a panic attack is to distract them from those thoughts, say positive things, and mention things that would calm them down.

Use your voice and your imagination to help them out. With a little love and a little patience, your friend will be totally okay.

panic attacks

About the author

Rowan Marley

Rowan Marley is a 20-year-old sports enthusiast who hails from Brooklyn. When he's not hitting up a local Zumba class, he's drinking organic smoothies. That's just how he rolls.

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