Panic attacks are difficult to handle, and not just for the person having one. It can be scary to witness a panic attack because we don’t have the training to deal with it, but there are things you can do that might help the person with ther panic attacks. Everyone is different, however, and these are just suggestions. What works for one person may not work for another, keep that in mind if you find yourself in a situation where you see someone having a panic attack.
Stay Calm Yourself
This is the number one priority because the person having a panic attack will only experience worse symptoms if the people around them are agitated or panicking themselves. Take a breath, assess the situation and remember that it isn’t the end of the world. Their panic is temporary and will go away, but your actions during the attack will be remembered for a long time.
Ask Them What They Need
In some circumstances the best course of action is to ask the person panicking what they need. Panic attacks are often shown as hyperventilating, but that isn’t always the case and even if they can’t vocalise what they need, they may be able to gesture. Also, sometimes knowing there is someone willing to help them can be enough to help them get through the attack.
Stay With The Person
It can be tempting to leave the person just a couple of minutes in to their attack, but panic attacks normally last around 20-30 minutes and leaving them before the attack is over can make their attack even worse! Staying with them and comforting them is really helpful, even if it doesn’t work immediately.
Getting the person talking is a huge help because it will distract them from their thoughts and in turn help them to regulate their breathing. Talking about their stresses may not be the best course of action and could make their attack worse, often talking about things like pets, favourite films and holiday plans can help them think more positively in the moment and get their mind away from the stresses.
I know it’s cliche, but breathing really does help. There are plenty of breathing techniques you can research to help someone out who needs it. Another good way of getting the person back to “reality” is counting, it helps them to focus on that instead of the negative thoughts. It can also be good to get the person to look at the area around them and find five things to focus on to get them thinking about other things.
Move Them Somewhere Quieter
If you’re in a busy area, suggest that you and the person move somewhere quieter such as the outdoors of a restaurant or getting off a busy street. This will take a huge stress of the person having an attack and help them to relax quicker. It will also help to clear your mind and help you help them.
Give Them Space
It might be your instinct to go in for a hug, but often that will only make the situation worse. The best option would be to let them come to you if they want a hug and let them use the space around them for what makes them more comfortable. Sometimes that will be pacing, or just sitting, but whatever it is just support them the best you can and it will be appreciated.
Read more about panic attacks here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/panic-attacks/#.XVlFAuhKjIU