Monday, April 15, 2024

How To Walk Someone Through A Panic Attack

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Tell Yourself Youre Having A Panic Attack

The scary symptoms of a panic attack can often lead people to imagine worst-case scenarios, like that death is imminent, which can obviously further anxiety. If you find yourself catastrophizing like this, telling yourself its a panic attack can reduce anxiety both in the moment and when it comes to future attacks, explains McCabe. It also keeps you from paying too much attention to your individual symptoms, which can escalate panic, McCabe says.

Full disclosure: This is probably going to be most effective when youve actually had a panic attack before. If you dont have past experience to inform whether youre having a panic attack or something like a heart attack, dont hesitate to seek medical attention. But once you know panic attacks are on the table, you can learn what distinguishes them from heart attacks, like the overwhelming sense of dread. Then, when one rolls in, you can tell yourself with certainty, This is just a panic attack.

Understand Their Panic May Not Make Sense To You Or Them

Panic attacks can be confusing as well as scary. People generally cant predict them and theres often no clear cause. They can happen in stressful situations but also during calm moments or even during sleep.

It might seem helpful to tell your friend theres nothing to be afraid of. But theyre probably perfectly aware theres no actual threat.

Thats part of what makes panic attacks so confusing. The reaction matches a fear response but nothings happening to cause that fear. In response, someone who gets panic attacks might begin to fear the symptoms themselves, or link them to a serious health issue.

Its typical to feel embarrassed or ashamed of such an intense reaction, Bingham explains. But having a trusted companion offer compassion can allow space for the person to return to baseline.

You can be that person even without understanding why they get panic attacks. Thats far less important than your ability to offer empathy and recognize their distress as real and significant.

Dont Run Away Youll Only Strengthen Your Fears

I used to avoid places and situations where Id had a panic attack for fear of having another, but I found that actually going to that intimidating concert or overwhelming shopping mall, or whatever the case may be, has helped me regain freedom over the fear. Dr. Misti Nicholson, a psychologist and the director of clinical services at Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services, calls this using paradox.

She explains: Logic and intuition tell us to run away or fight when we are in danger; however, when we avoid panic or treat it like an enemy, we make it stronger. Instead, it is important to take a paradoxical and counter intuitive approach to panic. I often encourage my patients to do the opposite of what anxiety is expecting them to do. This often means moving toward what they are afraid of when anxiety is telling them to back away.

Dont Say : Are You Ok

If your friend told you theyre feeling super anxious, they clearly are not OK. Constantly asking them for a status update can make them feel pressured to get better now. When we see someone we care about suffering, our instinct is often to try to fix it. But some things, including anxiety, cant be fixed by outsiders.

Tip 2: Shift Your Focus To An Object

5 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack

If you find yourself getting stuck in a panic attack inducing situation, try shifting your focus temporarily to a feel good object in your room. This could be a favourite object, a book, a picture or anything that brings in a feeling of happiness. 

It is important for you to find what works for you and to change your focus temporarily. 

Symptoms Of Panic Attacks

Picture this: youre asleep at night when suddenly you wake up to the sound of someone breaking into your house. What do you do? You panic, like every sane human being would. You start to sweat, you breathe heavily or struggle to breathe, you feel nauseous, your heart races, theres a heavy pressure in your chest, so on and so forth.

Now picture something else: all of those symptoms happening when you arent actually in any danger. No one is breaking into your house. Nothing is about to harm you or is currently harming you. Your body suddenly just starts to panic anyway. That is a panic attack.

Symptoms of panic attacks, particularly mine, include:

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Heavy breathing or inability to breathe properly, resulting in cut-off words or sentences if one attempts to speak
  • Heavy pressure in the chest area
  • Fast-beating heart
  • Nausea and/or the need to use the bathroom promptly
  • The seemingly uncontrollable feeling of being trapped, paralyzed, suffocated, and/or terrorized in any way

Occupy Your Mind Or Focus On The Something Pleasant

Occupy your mind with an absorbing task: outline the sociology chapter you just read for class tomorrow; put on you headphones and listen to that new CD everyone is talking about; start researching the paper thats not due for two more weeks! Or simply focus on the present, on concrete objects around you, making a game of noticing details of every object you see.

During a panic attack, your mind is consumed with catastrophic thoughts about whats happening to your body, or about imagined disasters to come. These catastrophic thoughts provide the fuel for further anxiety. To de-fuel anxiety, you need to interrupt the catastrophic thoughts. Distracting yourself by thinking about something else is one way to do that.

Listen to music, phone a close friend, invent a delicious daydream, recall a happy time in your life in great detailanything to focus your mind on whats happening in the environment rather that on your body; on whats happening in the present rather than in the future; on something other than disaster. Youll interrupt the spiraling of anxiety and can eliminate, sometimes even prevent, the symptoms of a full-blown panic.

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.

Things You Shouldn’t Do

Donât try to minimize it. Understand that the you see is real to your friend, even if the cause may not appear rational to you.

Donât be judgmental or critical. Blaming someone for a panic attack doesnât help. Donât try to talk them out of it, either.

If you know what causes your friend’s attacks, donât help them avoid the situation. Escape now could be harmful later. It could make the anxiety worse and raise the odds for more attacks. They may also become reliant on you to shield them from their fears.

Remind Yourself That It Wont Last Forever

Even though panic attacks can feel interminable, they tend to peak within about 10 minutes. Its physiologically impossible for the body to stay revved up much longer than that, says Martin Burch.

Reminding yourself that the experience is time-constrained can help you put it in context and handle it. After a panic attack, think back on it and tell yourself something like, That felt terrible, but it only lasted nine minutes. Then, bring that fact front and center if you have another panic attack. Reflecting back on a time when you did manage a panic attack can remind yourself that you have the ability to get through them, says McCabe.

Panic Attack Signs And Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. They rarely last more than an hour, with most ending within 20 to 30 minutes. Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. You may have one while youre in a store shopping, walking down the street, driving in your car, or even sitting on the couch at home.

Panic attack symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations or racing heart
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy

Is it a heart attack or a panic attack?

Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that you may think youre having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the emergency room in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem. While its important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, elevated heart rate, or difficulty breathing, its often panic that is overlooked as a potential causenot the other way around.

Step 4: Be Kind To Yourself

Its the default to feel down when struggling, but do your best to be kind to yourself. Understand that anxiety and panic management is a journey, and look for the positives in your experience with managing anxiety in your day to day life.

Living with an anxiety disorder doesnt have to lessen your quality of life. You can get back all of the things you feel like you have lost. I can drive wherever I want. I on my own and have gone climbing and zip lining. My life is usually exhilarating instead of terrifying, says Annette. In ways, anxiety offers its own gifts. It makes you vigilant about self-care, and demands that you pay attention to signs and symptoms. Im more in tune with myself both emotionally and physically because of my anxiety and that has made me more conscious about how I treat others.

Try Some Herbal Supplements

How I Handled My Panic Attack?  My Journey back to Love

Knowing you should relax is one thing, but being able to do so is something entirely different. So if you need a little extra help chilling out, you might want to try herbs such as Kava, Passionflower, or Valerian Root to help the process along. “Those three are the most effective herbs for relieving anxiety,” noted an article on Just be sure to check with your doctor first.

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:

Use Your Smartphone For Distraction

My Words With Friends addiction is a tad out of control, but it sure comes in handy when Im feeling eclipsed by panic.

Games like crossword puzzles and word searches , says Dr. Masand. The idea is it can act as a distraction to the fear or the body symptoms of anxiety. Our smartphones offer a plethora of great coping tools and this is something the majority of us already carry with us. Download some games that will distract you and get your mind off of the unpleasant symptoms you are feeling. You can also download relaxing music and guided relaxation sessions.

You Have No Reason To Be Nervous

Most likely, the person who is having the panic attack is aware that there is no reason to be anxious. When going through a panic attack, a persons fight-or-flight stress response is triggered, making their mind and body prepare for an actual or perceived threat.

Even if they are not in any real danger, they still may not be able to stop the attack from running its course. Reinforcing that the persons fear is unfounded can increase ones sense of .

Instead of bringing the lack of threat to their attention, try being a voice of encouragement. Use a soothing voice and simply remind them that you are there for them.

Breathe Through Your Belly

The most important thing when it comes to panic attacks is to get your breathing back under control, Dr Arroll says. Its not only important that you try to slow down your breathing but that you can control where your breath is centred.

The key thing is to make sure youre breathing through your diaphragm or your belly, Dr Arroll explains. Breathing through your chest maintains a sense of panic so place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and try to breathe through your belly. It should rise on the inhale and dip back in on the exhale.

If youre struggling to centre your breath to your belly, think about breathing through your tailbone, Dr Arroll advises. Breathe through your nose for a count of three and then out for four, Dr Arroll says, adding that, its important to breathe out for a little bit longer. 

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.

Helpful Tips For Riding Out A Panic Attack

It arrives like a wave: sometimes you can see it cresting over the horizon, and sometimes it knocks you off your feet without warning. Either way, it feels like youâre helpless to stop it.

Try for free

Those whoâve experienced anxiety attacks dread the feeling of another attack coming, a feeling that can be almost as bad as the attacks themselves. The worst part may be the helplessnessâfeeling powerless to stop them, forced to endure the attack until it passes. It doesnât have to be this way. For many, mindfulness is the key to reining in an attack and keeping anxiety under control. With the right methods, a mindful attitude can help you keep calm and focused, even in the face of an oncoming attack. When used in conjunction with therapy , mindfulness can prove a powerful tool for overcoming anxiety attacks. Here are a few techniques that can be used to stay calm when anxiety rears its ugly head.


Meditation can help center and calm you, and provide the focus you might need during an anxiety attack. sessions and keep them on your phone for when you feel an attack approaching. Even when youâre not in the throes of panic, meditation for anxiety can do a lot of good: studies show that mindful meditation can have a positive influence on those dealing with anxiety issues.

Focus on the moment


Take a walk

Getting outside can really help.If you could use a walk around the block, try this.

Listen to music

Forgive yourself

Walk Or Do Some Light Exercise

Walking can remove a person from a stressful environment, and the rhythm of walking may also help them regulate their breathing.

Moving around releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve mood. Taking up regular exercise can help reduce anxiety over time, which may lead to a reduction in the number or severity of panic attacks.

Learn more about the benefits of exercise here.

Write Out The Facts And Mantras On An Index Card And Keep It On You

5 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack

One of the tools that has helped me is knowing that even the most vicious panic attack cant kill me. Dr. Rodriguez recommends writing this fact down on an index card or in your phone to read when you feel one coming on. Panic attacks are not life-threatening, she says. Write this down. And maybe add the note to yourself, You have survived panic attacks before. You will survive this one.

Dr. Prakash Masand, founder of the Center for Psychiatric Excellence, recommends writing down some positive mantras to get you out of a catastrophic thought pattern. Or better yet, prepare your own. When you have the negative thoughts of gloom and doom, write down some positive and more realistic rebuttals.

Take Slow Deep Breaths

Sit down and take several slow, deep breaths. Pretend your stomach is a balloon and inflate it to enormous dimensions. Take at least four seconds to inhale, through your nose, and at least four more to exhale, through your pursed lips, as though youre whistling. Continue this for several minutes, trying, as you do so, to consciously relax your muscles.

Anxiety leads invariably to rapid, shallow breathingeven when youre not aware of it. And that leads directly to many of the symptoms of anxietydizziness, confusion, numbness or tingling, in your hands and feet, trembling and muscle aches, even altered perceptions of reality at times.

The fastest, most foolproof strategy to eliminate the physical symptoms of intense anxiety is to alter your breathingto slow it down and deepen it. In fact, use the method several times a day to keep anxiety low and prevent attacks from arising in the first place!

What To Do When Someone Else Is Having A Panic Attack

This section will provide some tips on how to help a person having a panic attack.

First, try talking them through a few of the methods above. For instance, help them find a peaceful spot, encourage them to take slow, deep breaths, and ask them to focus on a nearby object.

If you do not know the person, introduce yourself and ask them if they need help. Ask them if they have had a panic attack before, and if so, what helps them regain control.

People can also try the following tips when someone else is having a panic attack:

  • Try to remain calm. This will help them relax a little more.
  • Suggest moving to a quiet spot nearby and help them find one. Sitting down in a comfortable place can be very effective, as it allows them to focus on their breathing.
  • Remind the person that panic attacks always end.
  • Stay positive and nonjudgmental. Avoid validating any negative statements.
  • Try having a gentle, friendly conversation to distract them and help them feel safe.
  • Avoid telling them to calm down or telling them that there is nothing to worry about, as this devalues their emotions.
  • Stay with them. If they feel that they need to be alone, make sure they remain visible.

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:

What To Say : With Scripts

Picture yourself, at work, having a normal day. Maybe youre having lunch or a casual conversation with a co-worker. As you go on about your weekend plans, you notice a look of confusion come across your co-workers face. At first you might think nothing of it but as time goes on it becomes clear your co-worker is not simply preoccupied with the reports they have to file later today. They are clearly sweating and starting to breathe heavier but theyre not saying anything or bringing attention to how theyre feeling. You might even ask if they are okay, as they clearly become more distressed. They might try to pass it off as nothing or they might excuse themselves. What would you do?

It is possible, even likely, that the coworker in this scenario has just experienced a panic attack.

As a therapist, I have worked with hundreds of people experiencing a range of difficult emotional situations. As a result, I often find myself coaching my patients as well as their friends, families, and significant others on how to cope with these extreme emotion dysregulation events. I think its important to show some helpful scripts so people can see what works and what doesnt work for people when they are in the midst of a panic attack.

What Can You Do For Your Partner If They Are Having A Panic Attack

I specifically remember my friend and brother not freaking out when I had my own panic attack. Instead, they were incredibly comforting and took care to not add stress to the equation, but it can be hard to remain calm when a person you love is pretty much falling apart.

Whether you are in person or on the phone, “the very first thing you can do is to remain calm while your partner is having a panic attack,” says Dr. Brown. “Do not judge or criticize them in any way.” Panic attacks are embarrassing, so don’t make your partner feel any more shameful about it.

It’s also important that you make sure “that they are in a physically safe environment,” adds Dr. Brown. “If they are not, immediately get them away from whatever the immediate threat may be.” Of course this is tricky if you are on the phone, but see if you can get them to share where exactly they are.

What To Do To Cope With A Panic Attack

When I had my first panic attack at the age of 19, I believed with absolute certainty that I was in mortal danger. I lie in my dorm room bed for what felt like hours, clutching my pounding heart and gasping for air. Fifteen interminable minutes later, it was as if it had never happened, and I felt relatively normal but that wouldn’t be the last incident. I went on to have many more panic attacks, and have since been diagnosed with a panic disorder . I’m among two to three percent of Americans with PD; while 18.1 percent of Americans have anxiety disorders in general the most common mental illness. Since that day, Ive treated my condition both with therapy and medication.

Despite managing my PD, I do still suffer the occasional panic attack, but with professional guidance , Ive learned that there are simple things I can do to stop a panic attack in its tracks. I talked with mental health professionals to discuss why my own techniques work and what more those of us living with panic attacks can do.

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