If you are reading this, maybe you live with panic attacks, or have a loved one who does. If your loved one is currently having an attack, skip the background information and scroll right down to ‘steps to help your loved one through their panic attack’.
Many people experience just one or two panic attacks in their lifetime, while some have continued, repeated attacks. Although the attacks may only last a few minutes, the effects can be long lasting. If you have experienced a panic attack before, you understand the emotional and physical toll it can have on your body and your well being.
What is a panic attack?
- a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety.
The experience can be powerful, frightening, and seem totally out of control. In many cases, the individual does not even realize they are experiencing one. The general symptoms include:
- Overwhelming fear
- Perceived loss of control
- Feeling as though you are in danger
- Thinking you could pass out
- Thoughts of doom and gloom
- Overpowering sense of dread
- Loss of touch with reality
- Wanting to urgently escape where you are
- Heart Palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Hot and cold flashes
- Numbness and tingling sensations
Why do they happen?
Unfortunately, little is known about the exact cause of panic attacks, but we do know that our thoughts affect our emotional and physiological state. When we are worried, concerned, afraid, and/or stressed, our bodies will activate the natural stress response. This means that your body is going into ‘fight or flight’ mode to try to protect yourself. Your body secretes stress hormones into your bloodstream to enhance your ability to deal with danger. The response is directly proportional to the degree of worry.
Steps to help your loved one through their panic attack
The first thing to remember when helping someone through a panic attack:
When you see someone panic, the natural response is to start getting anxious yourself. The anxiety that is overtaking someone during an attack can seem contagious. The best thing you can do is to keep yourself calm. If you begin to panic, your loved one will feed off of you, which can make things exponentially worse.
Remember that a panic attack can take anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes or more to end, so be patient and keep reminding yourself and your loved one that it has to come to an end. Here are some quick tips to help them through it:
1) Limit stimuli
This could mean leaving a crowded room or dimming the lights. Create a more peaceful environment.
2) Narrate a ‘happy place’
Have them think about a place you’ve been together from which they can draw peace.
3) Have them take deep breaths
You want them to slowly breathe from their stomach to slow down the stress response.
4) Count backwards from 10
This will give them something to focus on and help stop their racing thoughts. When you get to 1, start over.
5) Relax their body
Try massaging a pressure point.
6) Take them outside
Get some fresh air or go for a walk.
7) Have them inhale lavender
It can relieve anxiety and bring a sense of calmness.
8) Focus on a nearby object
This will help distract them.
9) Remind them it is not harmful
Explain in a calming, soothing voice that this is just a strong reaction to worry and fear.
10) Remember, it will end
Keep telling yourself and them that the panic attacks will always end. The faster you can calm them down, the faster it will be over.
Although it takes time and effort, anyone can overcome high anxiety and panic attacks with the right support, knowledge, and assistance. Your support and continued reassurance of your loved one will be crucial in helping them make it through these debilitating events. While following the above steps will make a significant difference during an attack, if you notice a pattern, it is best to connect your loved one with a licensed professional talk therapist who can work towards helping prevent them from occurring in the future.
Cassie is a talk therapist & co-founder of Modern Therapy, a tele-mental health company. She specializes in helping professionals become the best version of themselves. She often provides clients with practical techniques based on humanistic psychology to find knowledge, growth, healing & fulfillment. Cassie holds a Master of Clinical Social Work from Rutgers University.