If you haven’t, it’s hard to know what it feels like. And if someone you love frequently experiences panic attacks, or you suspect that they’re having their first one, it’s difficult to know what to do.
That’s why we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to help someone who’s having a panic attack – because the last thing the person you’re trying to help needs is for you to panic, too.
Step 1: Keep calm.
It can be frightening and upsetting to see a friend or family member out of their mind with panic. You might feel helpless or scared, and that’s pretty normal. But in order to help them calm down, you need to be calm – so take three long, deep breaths and steady yourself before you do anything else, and focus on being measured and predictable.
Step 2: Know the signs.
A panic attack is what happens when an overwhelming fear or anxiety manifests physically. Symptoms can include chest pain, trouble breathing, a racing heart and sweating. Panic attacks can be brought on by a single, intensely stressful event, or can occur as a culmination of a long period of stress and anxiety. The effects of a panic attack are often worsened by drug and alcohol use.
Important note: The symptoms of a panic attack can often mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. Panic attacks can also exacerbate symptoms of diabetes and asthma. If you're not sure if the person you're with is at risk, it's always safer to calmly call an ambulance.
Step 3: Break the "cycle of panic".
If a person has never had a panic attack before, they might mistake the symptoms for something more serious (like a heart attack or stroke). This can lead to what's called a "cycle of panic", where a person's anxiety multiplies when they can't identify the source of their symptoms.
To break the "cycle of panic", speak calmly and slowly to your friend, emphasising:
- They're not in any danger
- The panic attack will soon pass
Keep reaffirming the short-lived nature of a panic attack: it might feel like the end of the world now, but it will go away soon. (Post continues after gallery.)