How To Help Someone During an Anxiety or Panic Attack
Stay with the person until the brunt of the attack runs its course. Try not to leave the person alone to “quickly tell friends where they’re going”. Someone having an attack will be disoriented and have a difficult time discerning reality from imagination. We fear being abandoned and left to our own thoughts. Presence is reassurance that we’re not actually going insane.
- Relocate the person to a quiet place
Having an attack in a public place can be disconcerting. Someone who’s having an attack with will be extremely sensitive to audio or visual senses. Also, a big fear is the thought of being embarrassed by their current situation and fear the judgment of others. So move the person to a quiet space.
- Make them comfortable
Have the person sit, lie down, or whatever feels the most comfortable for them in the moment. Don’t question if the position they find themselves into looks uncomfortable to you.
- Reassure Them
Constantly remind them that they’re alright. Tell them that they’re safe. Remind them that this will pass. A lot of times people will question their sanity and wonder if they’re actually going crazy. Constant reminders that they’re alright is important to for them to hear.
- Don’t ask many questions
During a panic or anxiety attack it’s common to feel disoriented so even asking simple questions like, “What’s wrong?” “What brought on anxiety?” “Do you need anything?” can make a person even more confused and stressed. If you need to ask a question, ask in a way that results in a “Yes” or “No” response. Someone who’s having an attack may not be able to produce coherent sentences, but most of the time they can nod or shake their head in response.
- Try not to express panic or uncertainty
Someone who’s panicking needs the reassurance that the person who’s helping them is strong. Even though you feel helpless in the situation, expressing uncertainties like, “I don’t know what to say”, or “I’m not sure what to do.” Can make someone feel even more anxious.
- Lead the Calm Breathing
If they’re hyperventilating, don’t tell them to “try breathing deep”. Instead take control and say, “Breathe with me.” And then proceed to breathe slow, deep breaths. Following breathing can calm the hyperventilation and draw them back to the present moment.
- Don’t force positive thinking
The last thing someone who’s having a panic attack needs is to try to be positive. It’s already mentally exhausting dealing with the symptoms, and being told to “think good thoughts” is frustrating to hear. It’s important to have positive thinking throughout life, but forcing someone during an attack to think and produce coherent positive sentences doesn’t help.
- Try not to show frustration
It might be natural to feel frustrated if the symptoms of an attack don’t subside immediately. You may be impatient as you had other plans for your day. But remember that the one who’s having a panic attack doesn’t want these symptoms to last either. Knowing that the caregiver is upset with their lack of immediate improvement can prolong the symptoms.
- Did I mention Presence?
If you’re in a situation that you don’t know how to handle, never underestimate your presence. There is no immediate cure for anxiety. Simply, the person who’s having an attack wants to feel safe while they wait out their emotions. So even if you feel clueless and don’t know what to do, just be there and hold the person. A hug will do. Never underestimate the power of a good hug.
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