Ask Them To Focus On Their Breathing
One of the most common and easy to spot signs of a panic attack is rapid and heavy breathing. If you think the person is able to understand you, try encouraging them to take slow, controlled breaths for at least two minutes.
A common misconception with handling a panic attack is to ask the person to breathe into a paper bag but this can be dangerous, and its important that you dont ask anyone to do this.
Is It Panic Disorder
If you feel constantly stressed and anxious, particularly about when your next panic attack may be, you may have panic disorder.
People with panic disorder may avoid situations that might cause a panic attack. They may also fear and avoid public spaces .
“There’s no quick fix, but if your attacks are happening time after time, seek medical help,” says Professor Salkovskis.
Read more about panic attacks, including personal stories, at See Me Scotland.
Dont Enable Their Anxieties
When someone has anxiety, they may try to avoid certain places or scenarios. As a result, you may have started to modify your behaviour as well. For example, you may have started to avoid certain places or scenarios too, or may have started taking on tasks to help the person continue with their avoidance.
We understand that this may seem helpful as you are stopping the person from worrying in the short term, but this avoidance can actually have a negative impact on them in the long run. Their continued avoidance can perpetuate their worries and prevent them from recognising that they could actually manage in the scenarios that they are evading.
Stay Calm And Move To A Quiet Location
- Once you’re certain that someone’s having an anxiety attack, it’s important to remain calm.
- Panicked people and busy spaces can often make an anxiety attack worse.
- Try to guide the person having the attack to a quiet space.
- If a crowd has developed, encourage them to return to their own tasks.
- Now is also the time to ask if that person has anxiety medication to help with an attack.
- Ativan, Xanax and Klonopin are all commonly prescribed to provide immediate treatment during a panic attack.
- If the person is taking medication, help find the correct dosage and get a glass of water if necessary.
Dont Put Pressure On Them
While it is important for you to not enable their behaviours, it is also imperative that you dont force the person to go to places or enter scenarios that they are extremely anxious about.
This is something that they should work gradually towards with professional therapeutic support. If you attempt to push them too far, it could damage the trust in your relationship and cause them a significant amount of stress.
How To Tell If Its A Panic Attack
Before you can help a person who is having a panic attack, you need to know if its because of fear or anxiety theyre experiencing or if theres a physical explanation.
Here are 10 symptoms of panic attacks to look for:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do these symptoms look familiar? Theyre also signs of cardiac distress. Its difficult to know if a person is experiencing a panic attack or a heart attack.
The best thing to do is ask if the person has had a panic attack before. If they havent and they dont think theyre having one now, call 9-1-1 and follow physical first aid protocol. If the person loses consciousness, call an ambulance, check for breathing and pulse and apply physical first aid principles. You can also check for a medical alert bracelet or necklace for more information.
Be Your Friend’s Wingwoman
Some people come undone by the mere thought of being scrutinized by others in a social setting. Instead of letting loved ones go it alone, support them in ways that lower their anxiety to a manageable level, suggests Misti Nicholson, PsyD, director of clinical services at Austin Anxiety and OCD Specialists in Texas.
She describes one young woman who was pregnant with her first child and terribly conflicted about an upcoming baby shower her friends had planned. What if she blushed or her hands trembled while unwrapping gifts? People would know she was anxious. She considered backing out. But then her best friend offered to sit next to her and read cards aloud to divert eyes in the room.
It made her feel like they were sharing the spotlight, Nicholson says.
Focus On Action Over Words
A soothing, familiar voice helps some people, but try to avoid repeatedly saying things like dont worry or asking them if theyre alright over and over.
Of course you mean well, but your words may not have much benefit in the moment. They can also make the situation more stressful, since your loved one may believe theyre doing something wrong by not being alright.
Do Listen To How They Want To Be Supported
When you ask the person how you can support them, listen carefully to their preferences. After all, you want to know how to help people with anxiety and support them. They may want help breaking down a task they are anxious about, they may want you to distract them from their anxious thoughts or they may just want someone to talk to.
Helping Someone With Long
If your friend experiences panic attacks regularly, this might start to impact the way they live their life. They might begin to avoid activities they once enjoyed for fear of having another panic attack. That doesnt actually work, though, and can make them more scared and limited in the longer term. Panic is like marshmallow, says Julie. It expands to take up all the room you give it.
Here are some things you could try to help them:
The Dos And Donts Of Helping Someone With Anxiety
If someone in your family or one of your friends has been experiencing anxiety or has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you will want to know the best ways to support them. Leaning how to help someone with anxiety can be daunting at first, but once you understand their concerns, you should be able to communicate well.
Mental health conditions can sometimes be tricky to manage, but when it comes to helping and supporting someone with anxiety, we have outlined some useful anxiety dos and donts so that you can make sure that the steps that you take help them to start feeling better once again.
Caring For Someone Who Has Anxiety
Over the past few years, more and more attention has been given towards the mental health of Canadians.
Anxiety has been found to be the most common mental health problem in Canada with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada reporting that one in four Canadians a whopping 25 per cent will have at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
If you are a family caregiver caring for someone with anxiety, there are different coping strategies that you may have already tried. You may have told them to just stop worrying. Perhaps you have tried to support the person by taking on the activity that the person has been avoiding.
For example, if the person is anxious about driving, going to the grocery store, or dealing with finances, you may have taken on these tasks and responsibilities. You may have thought that taking on these responsibilities would be a temporary fix until the person feels more comfortable.
The problem is when temporary fixes become the new normal and while well intentioned, these types of coping strategies dont assist the person in reducing or even managing their anxiety in the longer run. Also, if your strategy as a family caregiver has been to avoid the anxiety triggers for the person in your care , such as declining party invitations, you have by default made your own world smaller.
Making accommodations for the person in your care can actually increase the persons anxiety. Why?
Dont Say: Have You Tried Meditation/yoga/
Meditation and yoga and deep breathing and all of the other anti-anxiety trends that have taken pop culture by storm might be helpful for some people, maybe even your ultra-anxious friend. But they might not. Extreme anxiety can feel consuming, which means that small things like taking a few deep breaths might not be enough to counter panic in the moment. Everyone with anxiety has different relaxation techniques that work for themand some people need to do something active, like go for a run, instead of sitting and breathing. Dont offer unsolicited advice unless youve been trained to treat people with anxiety disorders or you have one yourself.
Part 1 Of 2:learning The Ropes
#2 Stay Calm And Patient
The physical and mental symptoms of panic attacks tend to reinforce each other in a negative feedback loop. Fear of the consequences only increases the intensity of the specific manifestations of panic. As those symptoms worsen the fear will then become greater, leaving the person in an increasingly desperate situation.
During this destructive process, you can act as a calming influence and a voice of reason. Your patience and placidity can produce a sympathetic response in the person having the panic attack, interrupting the progression of the attack and preventing it from turning into something far more serious.
Intervening may not end the panic attack completely. But your soothing presence can help convert it into something more manageable and less earth-shattering.
What Not To Do When Someone Is Having A Panic Attack
While its tempting to help your loved one avoid the feelings of panic by distracting them from their bodily sensations or taking them away from the situation, these are considered safety behaviors. While safety behaviors might help to ease anxiety in the moment, they could actually reinforce a cycle of panic that exists in panic disorder.
Safety behaviors and distractions can prevent people from learning that panic attacks, while uncomfortable, are not actually harmful or dangerous.
Your loved one can handle panic without actually doing anything, and its important for them to know that anxiety about panic goes away on its own without causing them harm.
Cognitive behavioral therapy a major method for treating panic disorder teaches you strategies to reduce your anxiety and avoidance around panic attacks. The idea isnt to prevent them but to sit with them until they inevitably pass. And often, you experience fewer panic attacks over time as you grow to fear them less.
The most effective way to react to a panic attack is just to ride it out instead of resisting or escaping it. While escaping a panic attack in the short term reduces anxiety, it just drives the panic cycle in the long term because you reinforce beliefs that panic is dangerous, harmful, or something that must be avoided at all costs.
The idea is to allow the symptoms to just be, which helps you to view panic attacks as a manageable experience, not one that needs to be escaped.
Ask If This Is The Person’s First Anxiety Attack
- If this episode is a first panic attack, a medical professional should be called immediately.
- Panic attacks often feel like heart attacks, so calling an ambulance, even if it is a false alarm, is a good first step.
- People with asthma who experience an anxiety attack are at risk for serious medical complications. If they can’t quickly restore their breathing, they could die.
- Diabetics can also experience panic attack complications, so call a medical professional immediately if you suspect any of these diseases is a factor.
Talk To Someone Friendly
Another very effective technique is to talk to someone you like and trust, especially on the phone. Don’t be shy about your anxiety – tell them you feel anxious and explain what you’re feeling.
Talking to nice, empathetic people keeps your mind off of your symptoms, and the supportive nature of friends and family gives you an added boost of confidence. If you’re suffering from a panic attack, it also helps you feel more confident that if something were wrong, you’d have someone that can watch over you.
When To Seek Professional Help
While self-help coping strategies can be very effective, if your worries, fears, or anxiety attacks have become so great that theyre causing extreme distress or disrupting your daily routine, its important to seek professional help.
If youre experiencing a lot of physical symptoms, you should start by getting a medical checkup. Your doctor can check to make sure that your anxiety isnt caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, hypoglycemia, or asthma. Since certain drugs and supplements can cause anxiety, your doctor will also want to know about any prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and recreational drugs youre taking.
If your physician rules out a medical cause, the next step is to consult with a therapist who has experience treating anxiety disorders. The therapist will work with you to determine the cause and type of your disorder and devise a course of treatment.
Dont Say: I Know What You Mean I Had A Panic Attack When I Saw Seattle Rent Prices
Panicking about the absurd cost of that tiny studio apartment makes sense because you need a roof over your head and cant magically increase your salary. Panicking about taking a bus because youre afraid of having a panic attack on said bus doesnt. Theres a difference between the uncomfortable but rational anxiety we all get in stressful situations and the sometimes paralyzing but illogical anxiety super anxious people like me get in situations that arent actually stressful or threatening. People with anxiety disorders experience anxiety over things others wouldnt and with such intensity that it interferes with our ability to function and do things we enjoy. So unless you have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, comparing your anxiety to someone elses isnt helpful.
Try A Grounding Exercise
One of the symptoms of panic attacks can be feeling unreal or detached, says Martin Antony, a psychology professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Grounding techniques, or other ways to feel connected to the present, can be effective Mind suggests focusing on the texture of a blanket, smelling something with a strong scent and even stamping your feet.
Remember That It Will Pass
During a panic attack, it can help to remember that these feelings will pass and cause no physical harm, however scary it feels at the time.
Try acknowledging that this is a brief period of concentrated anxiety, and that it will be over soon.
Panic attacks tend to reach their most intense point within 10 minutes of their onset, and then the symptoms will begin to subside.
Do Keep Lines Of Communication Open
When it comes to helping someone with anxiety, it is important to keep an open line of communication with them.
If you are able to, see the person regularly as this will help with managing anxiety. Spend one-on-one time with them so that they have opportunities to talk about anything they feel anxious about. You can also keep in touch over the phone, video or phone calling them once a week, or sending a text every few days just to see how their week is going.
Instead Say: Im Always Here For You
You dont have to understand what your friend is going through to be there for them. Showing you care will help if your friend is self-conscious about their anxiety or has a hard time opening up about it. Listen without judgment to what they have to say and what their experiences are like. Being there for someone even when you cant relate is a powerful way of showing support.
Stamp On The Spot With Them
Sounds weird, but it works. March on the spot together, stamp your feet and release some of those stress hormones, suggests Anxiety UK-approved therapist Eve Menezes Cunningham. Also get them to try and name five things they can see around them, this will help them get out of their own head.
These are known as grounding techniques, which can help to bring a person back to the present moment and slowly bring them out of a panic attack.
What can I do if I cant stop a panic attack?
If you think that the person is at risk of harming themselves or others whilst they are experiencing the panic attack, it might be time to seek professional help by calling 111. Theyll listen to you talk through their symptoms, and will be able to let you know what to do.
If theyve hyperventilated so much that theyre losing consciousness, you might need to call 999 straight away for an ambulance to take them to hospital.
What if I feel theres no reason for them to panic?
You might wonder if simply telling the person to calm down will help. No matter how illogical you think theyre being, you should never say this to them. People have panic attacks because they feel threatened or afraid its their bodys fight or flight response kicking in and floods their brain with chemicals. Their brain truly believes theyre in danger, so you cant just talk them out of it.
Watch our video with Dr Aaron Balick to find out more about helping someone with panic attacks:
Don’t Let Someone’s Panic Attack Become A Spectator Sport
People dont always know how to help someone with anxiety, especially if the person is in panic mode. Theyll often be so concerned that they start calling 911 because it looks scary, Nicholson says.
If you see that your loved one is having another panic attack , help them move to a more private area.
Youll be doing that person a favor because unwanted attention can often exacerbate symptoms of panic, she says, especially if the person has social anxiety.
Engage In Light Exercise
Endorphins keep the blood pumping in exactly the right away. It can help flood our body with endorphins, which can improve our mood. Because youre stressed, choose light exercise thats gentle on the body, like walking or swimming.
The exception to this is if youre hyperventilating or struggling to breathe. Do what you can to catch your breath first.
Try Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Another symptom of panic attacks is muscle tension. Practicing muscle relaxation techniques may help limit an attack. This is because if the mind senses that the body is relaxing, other symptoms such as rapid breathing may also diminish.
A technique called progressive muscle relaxation is a popular method for coping with anxiety and panic attacks.
This involves tensing up and then relaxing various muscles in turn. To do this:
Help Them Stay Grounded
Grounding techniques can have benefit for a range of anxiety issues, including panic attacks.
Grounding techniques can help contain panic attacks after they begin, explains Megan MacCutcheon, a therapist in Vienna, Virginia.
These techniques help the person focus on whats actually happening, not their fear of the attack. Theyre often most helpful once the intensity of the attack has faded a bit.
Offer A Coping Statement
While someone is having a panic attack, we do want to be empathic, but we dont want to reinforce the idea that panic is dangerous, harmful, or needing to be reduced, minimized, or escaped.
So, rather than giving your loved one lots of reassurance and fussing over them, it can help to remind them that they can cope with whats happening on their own. This gives them back their power to deal with the situation.
You can do this by offering supportive statements like:
- You can handle these symptoms.
- This will pass.
- The feelings arent comfortable, but you can accept them.
- This will roll over you, like a wave.
Remind them that, although panic attacks can feel never-ending, they typically peak in about 10 minutes. Its not possible for the body to stay ramped up for much longer than that.
What Is A Panic Disorder
According to the DSM-5, a person must have recurrent and often unexpected panic attacks and at least one of these attacks needs to be followed by one or more attacks or the fear of more attacks.
This is a disorder that requires a professional diagnosis. This will help rule out other causes of some symptoms of panic disorder like: drug use, medication side effects, other mental disorders such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder , etc.
Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder. But not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder.
Having experienced one panic attack is usually a sign that a person can expect to have more. Worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, can cause significant problems in various areas of life.
A person with panic disorder may experience interference with their everyday life and activities due to panic attacks. For example, they may spend time worrying about future panic attacks. Many people will also actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Additionally, many people with panic disorder deal with loneliness and isolation.
If you want to learn more about panic attacks and panic disorder, we suggest you take a look at our Panic Disorder page.
Can Treatment Help Someone Who Is Having A Panic Attack
If someone you know has a panic attack, they are most likely feeling very anxious and not thinking clearly. There are a few things that you may be able to do to relieve some anxiety and help soothe some of the most pressing symptoms of the attack. We suggest that you: