Panic attacks can be very frightening for the person going through them. But it isn’t that much easier for those who are witnessing this happening to their loved ones. While there are a lot of guidelines on what to do for people who suffer from panic attacks, their husbands, wives, parents or friends still might not know what to do when they happen. That’s why in most cases they feel powerless to help and just have no idea how to act. However, there are some basic things you can do to support those in need.
We at Bright Side believe that if your friends or family members have panic attacks, it is important to know what you can do to comfort them. And we want to share this information with you.
1. Stay calm.
It can be tough to remain cool while people you love look like they are going to fall apart. But it’s very helpful to not add fuel to the flames. If you start getting stressed, it will only prolong the duration of a panic attack and could even worsen it. Try to talk calmly and avoid making any commotion.
2. Don’t belittle their feelings.
Even though panic attacks aren’t dangerous, it doesn’t make their symptoms any less real. People may feel various unpleasant things like abdominal pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or a pounding heart. A panic attack is a truly horrible experience, and phrases like, “It’s fake!” or “It isn’t such a big deal!” probably won’t help. Instead, choose words that can encourage them to get through it (for example, “I know you’re very scared, but I am right here with you.” or “We will go through this together.”).
3. Ask them what they need.
Try to avoid assumptions and doing things that only you find appropriate. Each person may need a different type of support, so gently ask them what they want you to do right now. Don’t rush in and bombard them with an ocean of questions and respect any requests they have, even if they seem insignificant to you. Be ready if a person sharply asks you to not do anything and just stay silent.
4. Remind them that it will end soon.
Panic attacks rarely last more than half an hour, but most of them reach their peak within the first 2–10 minutes. But since this time tends to look like eternity and is filled with lots of fears, almost everyone who suffers from this disorder forgets about that. So, it can be very useful to direct people’s attention to this fact to help them hopefully move through the whole thing faster.
5. Remind them that it isn’t dangerous.
Some people mention that panic attacks look like heart attacks or a sign of immediate death for any other reason. But in reality, these symptoms don’t mean that something harmful is happening. If you know that this person had undergone all medical examinations and nothing life-threatening was found, then there is a chance for you to remind them about this. Bring this idea up and tell them that panic attacks aren’t dangerous and nothing bad is going to happen.
6. Breathe together.
Another thing you can do is help them to regulate their breath. A person who is having a panic attack is likely to be breathing irregularly and way too fast (to see what we’re talking about, watch this video). It can be hard to help a person breathe properly because it doesn’t help immediately, but this is a vital way you can help them to try to eliminate all of the terrifying symptoms. You can start doing it by yourself and ask your partner to synchronize their breath with yours.
Here is a short breathing technique you can use. Focus on your breathing. You can close your eyes if it helps. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and count from 1 to 5. Breathe out slowly and deeply through your mouth and count from 1 to 5. Repeat this action for several minutes until your partner feels better.
7. Suggest that they not fight it, but let it pass through them.
Although people who are going through a panic attack may want to leave crowded places or look for distractions, this may not be a very helpful method from a long-term perspective. It can only help at the moment of the panic attack, but it usually makes things worse as people start to avoid crowded places like shopping malls or public transportation. Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, says that it’s crucial to not let our fear of having panic attacks take control of us. So, suggest that a person sit down and let the panic pass through them.
8. Try to distract them.
If you see that a person isn’t ready for this experience and is trying to fight it, you can use a well-known and effective grounding technique. Ask them to list 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. All these things should be present in the place where you are at that moment.
Can you add anything to these points? Share this list with friends who need it.