How To Help Someone Who Is Having a Panic Attack
I am personally someone who has suffered from panic attacks. I have not had a lot of them. Up until recently I could count how many I have had on one hand, but a recent illness caused me to have several recently. The panic attacks of course scared my husband and he did not now what to do to help me. This has got me to thinking that most people who happen to be with someone as they are having a panic attack probably don't know what to do to help that person.
A panic attack is something that comes on rather suddenly. The person having the attack will usually start to shake, their heart will race and they may have trouble breathing, and possibly feel as if they are trapped or are going to die. For the person having the panic attack this is both very scary and very physically uncomfortable.
Ask the person if they feel this is a panic attack, if they have had them before they will likely recognize what they are going through, however don't rule out that there could be something else causing the shaking. Although I recently experienced a series of panic attacks I did have an infection in my body that was causing my blood sugar and my blood pressure to go hay wire, since I was unable to get the panic attack under control on my own or with my husband's help the best thing to do was to bring me to the ER. They treated me with fluids and antibiotic through an IV and also gave me some medication to calm me down.
If someone has systematic panic attacks where certain situations cause them to have attacks they should have medication and take it before they encounter those situations, for instance I have had panic attacks at my dentists office so I always take a pill prescribed by my doctor before I go, this helps me relax and get through the cleaning or what ever I am there for. It makes me almost sleepy which is good.
So if you are with someone who is experiencing a panic attack here is some good advice to follow.
1. Ask them if they have a pill - Those who have had panic attacks before probably have some medication for it somewhere, get them a pill or gently advise them to get one and take it right away. The pill will take some time to actually take affect so you will need to help calm them down in the mean time. If the y don't have any medication for panic and the panic attack does not stop after 15 minutes or returns after they calm down you should take them to an ER where they can give them some medication that will help them calm down. Be aware that once the meds kick in they might be a bit dizzy and will very likely become very tired. This is normal.
If they do take a pill and they still have not calmed down after about a half hour after taking it and doing soothing breathing exercises (see below) take them to the doctor or an ER there could be something else going on as well. The last time I was having panic attacks my blood sugar was completely out of control and my heart rate was very high. It turns out I had an infection in my body that was causing my white blood count to be very high which was causing my whole body to out of whack.
2. Change You Tone to Soothing - When ever you speak to someone who is having a panic attack be sure to use a calm and soothing voice. Do not be condescending, do not yell at them, do not speak in panicky tones. Stay calm and soothing.
3. Take it Seriously - Although they say that nobody ever died of a panic attack it does not mean that it is not very real, and very frightening to the person who is having it. Don't say things like, "You are doing this to yourself." or "Oh knock it off you are just being silly." It is better say things like, "I know this is very scary but we are going to get you help." Or "I am here sweetheart, we are going to get through this."
4. Get them some water - Water can seem like a life line when someone is having a panic attack. Get them some water and get them more when they need it. Their mouth will become very dry and their lips can become kind of numb feeling.
5. Rub their back - Rubbing their back in a soothing and loving manner is a very nice touch. Being able to feel someone's love through touch can be very soothing. It also gives them something to focus on besides their panic, they will focus a bit on your touch and it will help them to calm down. You can also have them focus on a pretty picture or look out a window as you are doing this. Tell them to concentrate on your touch while they envision their selves in the picture. When someone is having a panic attack they find it very hard to think about anything but the panic attack, trying to get them to focus on something else can be very helpful. Do not try to restrain the person in any way though. This is not a good time to give them a hug or hold their hand tightly. Confinement of any type while having a panic attack only makes things worse.
6. Take them outside - Nice brisk air can feel really comforting when someone is having a panic attack. It gives them a sense of freedom and fresh air. Confining spaces often create more anxiety.
7. Get them to slow their breathing - Very gently and kindly tell them to breath deep in through the nose, and slowly through the mouth. Tell them to close their eyes when they breath in and open them when they exhale. The eye thing is mostly just a clever ploy to get them to concentrate on something other than the panic.
8. Get them to do this deep breathing exercise - I have to credit my sister for this she told me about this technique and it really does work, at least it did for me. Have the person take a deep breath and hold it for one second, then release. Then take another deep breath and hold for 2 seconds, then release. Repeat this up to the count of 5 and repeat if necessary.
9. Be mindful after it is over - Just because they have seemingly calmed down and the panic attack appears to be over this is not the time to upset the person in any way. Don't tell them how much they scared you, don't remind them that the emergency room bill is going to be very costly, don't be condescending or tease them about what happened. Remember their body has just gone through a trauma, they are still very vulnerable if you say the wrong thing or act panicky, angry, or sad you could raise their anxiety again and they could go in to another panic attack. This is not the time to tell them that if they took better care of themselves these things would not happen. It's best to let them direct the conversation or just sit in silence if they need to. If they are embarrassed or feeling bad about what happened don't agree with them. Just tell them it is OK.
The most important thing to remember when you are with someone who is a having a panic attack is for you to remain calm and speak as calmly and as gently as possible while making them aware that you are taking this very seriously and you are there for them. .