A panic attack is a condition that can come on suddenly and seemingly for no reason. It can include symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, dry mouth, nausea and dizziness, or any combination of these or other scary effects. The symptoms also often don’t match the physical situation, which can add to the already-mounting anxiety.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of a panic attack can help you determine the severity of the situation. Panic attacks often arise as a result of deep psychological fears like crowded rooms, small spaces or traumatic experiences. Someone who had a traumatic break-up might have a panic attack when she sees her ex unexpectedly in a public place, for example.
If your loved one is having a panic attack, here’s what you can to do help.
Tips for Helping Someone During a Panic Attack
You may not be able to stop a panic attack, but with calm, quick thinking, you can lessen the effects and possibly shorten the duration. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Calmly pointing out to your loved one that she is having a panic attack will help de-escalate the situation. It may be obvious to you, but someone having a panic attack is often distracted by the physical symptoms and confused by their cause. Knowing what the problem reduces at least one level of panic.
- Remind your loved one to breathe. Model deep breathing for them and try to get them to mimic you. Focusing on breathing will reduce anxiety, and slowing and deepening their breaths will help them to relax.
- Stay with the person having a panic attack and offer to escort them out of the room. Let them make the decision to stay or go, but remind them that the option is there. Don’t leave the room without them or send them out by themselves.
- Engage in a soothing topic of conversation to divert their mind from the panic attack. Once you have established that it is a panic attack and that he or she is safe, talking about something the person enjoys will help your friend or loved one move past the panic attack.
- Assure them that they are going to be okay and that the incident wasn’t an inconvenience. If you seem impatient or annoyed, that will fuel their anxiety. Someone having a panic attack usually does not want to be the center of attention. As the panic attack passes, resume normal activity as if it were no big deal.
You can help someone who is having a panic attack with these techniques. The goal is to remain calm and allow your friend or loved one to let go of their anxiety and relax. Suggesting directly that they calm down or relax will not be helpful, though. You need to approach someone with anxiety in a much gentler way.
When someone is having a panic attack, that is not the time to try to diagnosis their anxiety. They are not thinking clearly, and you are not a doctor. Be supportive and don’t ask a lot of questions. Ending the panic attack should be your only concern.
Medical Attention for a Panic Attack
Although a panic attack can feel much like a heart attack, panic attacks don’t usually require medical attention. If you help someone with a panic disorder, they probably know their situation is not medically serious. You should, however, seek medical attention for your friend or loved one if the symptoms of the panic attack do not subside after several minutes, if you become concerned about her breathing conditions or if they lose consciousness.
If you or someone you know has frequent panic attacks, it could be indicative of an underlying mental health issue. An inpatient anxiety treatment center, like Brookhaven Retreat, can help with proper diagnosis and provide treatment options.