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Tips to help someone experiencing a panic attack

Panic attacks can be a scary thing for both the person experiencing it and the person witnessing it. It can be hard to understand what's going on when a person is experiencing an attack, especially when you've not experienced anxiety personally before. This post offers some useful tips on how to help someone experiencing a panic attack. A panic attack is defined as a brief but intense rush of fear.

Symptoms of a panic attack can include:

What to do when someone is experiencing an attack:

  • Stay with the person and keep calm.

  • Remind the person that they're safe 

  • Reassure the person that their feelings are valid 

  • Offer medicine if the person usually takes it during an attack.

  • Don't make assumptions about what the person needs. Ask.

  • Speak to the person in short, simple sentences.

  • Be predictable. Avoid surprises.

  • Help slow the person's breathing by breathing with him or her or by counting slowly to 10.

  • Remember the person isn't doing this on purpose and can't control it or 'just stop'

  • Learn the signs for future and preplan, talk about how you can help them when they aren't experiencing an attack so you can help them more in the future. 

good things to say can be:

  • "You can get through this."

  • "I am proud of you. Good job."

  • "Tell me what you need now."

  • "What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous."

Dos and Donts for helping someone who experiences anxiety:

  • Don't compare normal stress and fear to a panic attack 

  • Don't shame or minimise. Avoid saying things such as, "Just relax. There’s nothing to be afraid of", "You’re upset over that?” Or "What’s wrong with you?”

  • Be considerate

  • Respect their needs, listen to them and what they want

  • Encourage them but don't push too hard, know when to stop

Grounding technics can be really helpful for people experiencing an attack, some examples can be:

  • finding something small and comforting that they can hold/squeeze

  • physical touch, like holding their hand (if they’re okay with it)

  • giving them a textured object to feel

  • encouraging them to stretch or move

  • encouraging them to repeat a soothing or helpful phrase, like “this feels awful, but it’s not going to hurt me”

  • talking slowly and calmly about familiar places or activities

When to get more help:

Seeing someone experience a panic attack can be really scary sometime and it can make you want to reach out for addition help. However, you might not be sure that's the right thing to do. It can make it more stressful for the person who's having a panic attack to get more people involved so know when you should call someone and when not to. Sometimes all a person needs is your presence. 

That being said, you should know when to reach out for emergency help. If the person is experiencing any of these things you should call external help:

  • chest pain feels like squeezing (not stabbing) and moves to their arms or shoulders

  • symptoms persist for longer than 20 minutes and get worse, not better

  • shortness of breath doesn’t improve

  • pressure in the chest lasts more than a minute or two

Ways you can help a person wanting to move towards recovery:

  • Allow the person to proceed in therapy at his or her own pace.

  • Be patient and praise all efforts toward recovery, even if the person is not meeting all of the goals.

  • Do not panic when the person panics.

  • Remember that it is all right to be concerned and anxious yourself.

  • Accept the current situation, but know that it will not last forever.

  • Remember to take care of yourself.

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