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How To Help Someone Through A Panic Attack

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How to Help Someone through a Panic Attack

While most panic attacks are short, some of them can last hours. One panic attack can lead to another.

If your loved one requires emergency assistance, immediately contact help. Panic attack symptoms are similar to heart attack symptoms. If your loved one is experiencing chest pain and hasnt had a panic attack before, you should call 911.

A sign of worsening conditions can manifest itself if the pain moves to the shoulder or army during a panic attack. In the event of a worsening condition, a medical provider should be notified immediately.

Regain Control With Meditation

Meditation is another common intervention that can be helpful not only as a preventative measure to reduce anxiety on an ongoing basis, but also as a tool to re-establish your relationship with your thoughts, which becomes important during an attack.

It can help clients become an observing witness to the fluctuations of thought, realize they are not controlled by them, and consequently reduce symptoms, says Meredith Strauss, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker who specializes in treating anxiety and depression. By focusing on the breath, or the mantra, clients are distracted from disturbing thoughts dictated by the mind. They also learn to become non-judgmental of negative and distracting thoughts as they become a witness to their own thinking.

She also notes there are meditation apps available that help calm an anxious and overactive mind. Also, writing thoughts in a journal can also help the client vent and understand the origin of their feelings.

Instead Say: Ive Noticed Youve Been Anxious A Lot Lately And Im Concerned

If you notice your friend getting more and more anxious and you know they havent sought any kind of professional help, its OK to express your concern if it comes from the heart. Focus on how youve seen the anxiety change them: maybe they arent going to concerts anymore even though they used to love live music, or they havent been socializing as much and youre worried about them being lonely. If theyre open to getting help but feel overwhelmed, offer to do some research on good therapists or to wait for them in the lobby during their first appointment. Remind them that anxiety is treatable, even without medication, and that this isnt something they have to fight alone.

If someone confides in you that theyre feeling anxious or having a panic attack, the most important thing to remember is that the feelingsand telling you about themare a big deal. It takes trust to show that kind of vulnerability. Listen and respond in a way that doesnt minimize their experience.

There are definitely times when I havent been heard, when my anxiety has been dismissed or questioned. Ive been subjected to jokes about how me and my fellow Millennials are the Xanax generation or how Im only anxious because U.S. culture is in an age of anxiety, as though everyone feels exactly as I do so I should just suck it up.

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Why Is This Blog About What To Say To Someone Having A Panic Attack Over Text Important

As discussed, what we say to someone that is having a panic attack over a text message it is not easy but can make a huge difference.

The most important thing to remember is to make sure you let them know you are there, avoid panicking, getting angry and any judgments or criticisms since it is not helpful at all.

In addition, advise your loved one to get additional professional help if they are feeling too overwhelmed during their attacks, or if they feel they have lost control over their emotions leading them to depression or feeling sad all the time.

Please feel free to comment in the comments section.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Quick Read Anxiety Support 101

  • Theres a difference between normal, everyday anxiety and having an anxiety disorder.
  • If an anxious friend decides to confide in you, its important to respond in a way that offers support and doesnt minimize their experience.
  • If you dont have an anxiety disorder, avoid offering advice without listening to your friend.
  • Show support by telling them youre there for them, asking how you can help and listening to what they have to say.

A unique kind of awkwardness blossoms each time I tell someone I have an anxiety disorder. This holds true no matter the scenario: Divulging my condition to my supervisor, telling a friend Im having a panic attack while were at a concert, or clueing in a new romantic partner.

Opening up to others is hard even if Im close with them because I dont know how theyll respond. Being stereotyped or treated insensitively when youre struggling can be nerve-wracking, especially if you already get down on yourself for having anxiety.

While everyone experiences anxiety, people experience differing degrees of severity, says Ty Lostutter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety and treats patients at University of Washington Medical Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Anxiety is normal and healthy. It keeps us safe and motivates us, Lostutter says. It only becomes a problem when someone becomes overly anxious and it interferes with daily life.

Recommended Reading: What Are The Three Stages Of Schizophrenia

Dont Compare Normal Stress And Fear To Panic

Maybe youve felt stressed or terrified in a dangerous situation. You might even have anxiety yourself.

These experiences arent quite the same as a panic attack, though. Avoid trying to draw comparisons between your different experiences. Unless you also get panic attacks, you probably dont entirely understand how they feel.

If you have experienced extreme fear, let that memory inform you on what your friend is going through. Remind yourself they arent just afraid or stressed.

They may also feel:

  • unable to manage whats happening
  • physical pain or discomfort

Personalize The Call By Using Their Name

As recommended by Sky Taylor from, Every now and then, add in the persons name youre talking to into the conversation.

I know that when Im having a panic attack and I hear someone say my name before they tell me something, it means a lot.

It makes me feel heard, validated, cared about, and reminds me youre here for me. It also reminds me I am not my anxiety.

Also Check: What Is The Phobia Of Throwing Up

The Three Bs Of Surviving Acute Anxiety

Im sitting down to get things done this morning and I can feel the anxiety building. At first, it’s just a barely audible tap, tap, tapping in my mind…

My kids are back in daycare . Its my daughters birthday and I have to make sure everything is beautiful and perfect before she gets home and my entire family jumps on the Zoom birthday party to check my work. I have a major presentation in a week that just got moved online to a platform I have to learn from scratch. I have 6 clients later today, and 20 more this week.

Here comes the death spiral. Can I get to it all in time? Why didnt I just do this yesterday? Why can’t I handle the simplest tasks? Im such an idiot! I’m never going to change. All this effort is pointless. I try, and I try, and… cant take it! Why am I like this? Its never going to end. Oh my God, this is never going to end!

Oh, whoa. How did I get so worked up?

I work with a lot of people who, since the start of the pandemic, are seeing their usually manageable anxiety escalate into panic attacks, often for the first time.

Help Them With Some Grounding Techniques

How To Help Someone Through A Panic Attack

There are different grounding methods you can try with your friend during their panic attack. These techniques can help them recenter themselves.

Four practical techniques:

  • If they can move, ask your friend to sit down in a comfortable chair with their feet on the floor. This can help them regain control of their surroundings.
  • You can also try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. This grounding method uses the five senses to help the person focus on other things in the room and not on their panic attack.
  • Have your friend identity five things they can see, four they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.
  • Another grounding tool would be to remind them to remain calm and take slow and deep breaths in and out. Helping your loved one control their breathing is the best way to push through a panic attack. Have your friend copy this pattern so they can recenter themselves.
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    How Do I Survive One

    If you feel that anxiety building, or if its already DEFCON 1, consider trying the three Bs to get you through the crisis:

    1. Body

    Find a way to feel grounded. Thats psychology speak for get out of your head. Be here now. Feel your feet on the ground. Dont just visualize or think about your feet on the ground, really feel them. Attend to the micro-sensations of each toe, each inch of foot skin, that is touching the ground. Notice the gravity, the heaviness. Now you have your anchor.

    You could also hold one hand with the other. Note the soft, warm sensations of touching and being touched on each hand. Use physical touch to bring you out of your head and back into your body, and to remind yourself, Im here. Im safe. Im in my room. This is just anxiety. I know it feels like something terrible is happening, but its notthose are just your thoughts about the past or about what might happen in the future.

    2. Brain

    Find a way to engage your brain so that it cant think dark thoughts while youre trying to calm your body down. Count backward from 100 by 2s, recite the alphabet backward, start with 50 and add 2, minus 1, over and over. Something that is neutral but requires mental effort.

    3. Breath

    This is the big one. This may be easier now that youve distracted your mind with busywork and reminded yourself that youre in your body, right here, right now, and not falling into the existential abyss.

    Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia

    Agoraphobia was traditionally thought to involve a fear of public places and open spaces. However, it is now believed that agoraphobia develops as a complication of panic attacks and panic disorder. Although it can develop at any point, agoraphobia usually appears within a year of your first recurrent panic attacks.

    If youre agoraphobic, youre afraid of having a panic attack in a situation where escape would be difficult or embarrassing. You may also be afraid of having a panic attack where you wouldnt be able to get help. Because of these fears, you start avoiding more and more situations.

    For example, you may begin to avoid:

    • Crowded places such as shopping malls or sports arenas.
    • Cars, airplanes, subways, and other forms of travel.
    • Social gatherings, restaurants, or other situations where it would be embarrassing to have a panic attack.
    • Physical exercise in case it triggers panic.
    • Certain food or drinks that could provoke panic, such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or specific medications.
    • Going anywhere without the company of someone who makes you feel safe. In more severe cases, you might only feel safe at home.

    Also Check: Define Emetophobia

    Treatment Plus The Support Of Family Can Make The Difference

    Treatment for panic disorder is usually quite effective. Most people who get help for their panic attacks can learn to manage their symptoms and resume living a normal life.

    Recovery may require time in a residential treatment facility for those who have co-occurring disorders. Substance use disorders can be an especially troubling complication. But for patients determined to regain their health, the complexity of the treatment program will not reduce the likelihood of a successful outcome.

    The dynamics of panic disorder can be difficult to comprehend for those who havent experienced the condition. Nevertheless, you should strive to accept your loved ones testimony and behavior without judgment or confusion. If you can avoid becoming frustrated and remain committed to being a positive force in their lives, your efforts to help can assist the recovery process and make it far more likely to achieve excellent results.

    Ways To Prevent Panic Attacks

    Panic Attack Help: How to help someone during a panic ...

    “You need to try to work out what particular stress you might be under that could make your symptoms worse,” says Professor Salkovskis. “It’s important not to restrict your movements and daily activities.”

    • Doing breathing exercises every day will help to prevent panic attacks and relieve them when they are happening
    • Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will help you to manage stress levels, release tension, improve your mood and boost confidence
    • Eat regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels
    • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking these can make panic attacks worse. Panic support groups have useful advice about how you can effectively manage your attacks. Knowing that other people are experiencing the same feelings can be reassuring. Your GP can put you in touch with groups in your area
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy can identify and change the negative thought patterns that are feeding your panic attacks

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    Responding To Panic Attacks

    Even if you don’t experience panic attacks yourself, knowing how to support someone going through one is really valuable.

    “It’s understandable to feel daunted if you are with someone when they experience a panic attack – particularly if it seems to happen suddenly,” says Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind. “It can help if you gently let them know that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you are there for them. Try to stay calm and encourage them to sit somewhere quietly until they feel better.”

    One of the best ways you can help is by encouraging them to breathe slowly and deeply. “It is important to breathe deeply to ensure your body is getting enough oxygen,” says Lidbetter. “But a very common symptom of panic attacks is hyperventilation which can result in further feelings of panic. By taking long deep breaths , the body receives the oxygen it needs and makes the person feel calmer.”

    There are certain strategies you can use to make this easier. “It might be helpful to count out loud or ask them to watch while you gently raise your arm up and down. Encourage them to stamp their feet on the spot,” suggests Buckley. “Never encourage someone to breathe into a paper bag during a panic attack as this isn’t recommended and might be unsafe.”

    How to support someone through a panic attack

    Ground Yourself And Then Write A Quick Note

    This takes practice, but when your anxiety begins taking over, experts say being present and reasonable can help shorten the duration.

    When I get in the middle of my what-if snowball, at some point I’m able to back off, says Elaine, a 32-year-old mother in Indiana, who has been diagnosed with panic disorder. I sometimes have to actually tell myself to stop out loud. I’ve said, Stop, Elaine. That’s ridiculous. When I take a second to really evaluate whether or not what I’m thinking is reasonable, I am able to recognize it’s not and just move on.

    In cases where she cannot recognize whether her thoughts or anxiety is normal, she physically writes down a note and discusses it with her therapist.

    Studies show that people who wrote about emotionally charged episodes were happier, less depressed and less anxious.

    Which science says is a smart move. Writing down your fears can actually help reduce them, and ease the anxiety that accompanies them. One study found that writing thoughts down and physically throwing them in the garbage can be an effective way to clear your mind.

    So keep a notebook and pen in your car, by your bedside, and in your purse for when anxious thoughts begin to creep up.

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    Offer Support When You See Signs Or Symptoms

    What you say matters and that is still true even during a panic attack. There are some phrases that are helpful and some that are more hurtful to someone who is experiencing a panic attack. Try to say things such as:

    • You can get through this.
    • Tell me what you need now.
    • Concentrate on your breathing. Stay in the present.
    • What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous.

    By doing these things you will reduce the stress for the person experiencing panic. Remember that this is a very stressful experience both mentally and physically. You also will be helping to prevent the situation from becoming worse. Asserting control in these instances when the person feels there may be a lack of control can help eliminate confusion that takes place and it is important to remember that you are there to offer help at the moment and after.

    Some other tips to keep in mind when you are trying to support someone who experiences panic attacks, either for the first time or the fiftieth time, are:

    • Allow the person to proceed in therapy at their own pace.
    • Be patient and praise all efforts toward recovery, even if the person is not meeting all their goals.
    • Do not agree to help the person avoid things or situations that cause anxiety.
    • This can be difficult as you never want to increase the stress they feel but sometimes exposure to the trigger can help, Check out our Panic Disorder page to learn more about how this works.
    • Do not panic when the person panics.

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