Tips for Helping During a Panic Attack
It’s estimated that about 2.7% of U.S. adults experience severe panic attacks in a year. This number doesn’t include the folks who don’t report attacks, and there’s a good chunk of those folks. Some people don’t even know what to call the experience.
Adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from panic attacks. It’s known to affect teens and children, too. The reality is panic attacks happen, and it can be hard to help someone having an attack. The good thing is there are steps to take to reach the person going through this experience.
- Crisis Text Line: Text and Online Chat
The Crisis Text Line is a volunteer based service that provides 24/7 free support, with an online chat at crisistextline.org as well as a textable number at 741741
- SAMHSA National Helpline
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides a free 24-hour service in English and Spanish for any mental health or substance abuse related needs. Text: 435748, Call: 1-800-662-4357 or TTY 1-800-487-4889
- NAMI Helpline
The NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) provides a volunteer helpline answering questions and offering support for all Mental Illness topics. Text: 62640 or Call (800)950-6264
- Mental Health Hotline is a free, 24-hour service established to provide resources for those seeking help and connect them with appropriate and local care.
- Crisis Text Line: Text and Online Chat
Silence Is Helpful
One thing you should know is that it’s okay to be silent. The person going through this panic attack may not be able to talk or pay attention to what you’re saying.
In fact, talking and forcing people to listen to you could make them feel more anxious because they know there’s nothing they can do but feel this unexplainable and unbearable feeling.
The best thing you can do, especially if the panic attack is at its peak, is to embrace the silence as much as possible. There’s no doubt that this part is going to be a little strange for you. Most people want to talk and want to feel helpful in some way, but right now, the person going through this needs to feel like he or she isn’t alone, and this is one way to show support.
At some point, you’ll be able to talk to this person. However, allow this step to happen naturally.
Tell Them You’re There
Panic attacks can be brought on for various reasons, and one of those reasons involves loneliness. Some people fear loneliness so much that it leads to panic attacks. Telling the person experiencing this attack that you’re there can do wonders. Even if the person you’re trying to help doesn’t have this fear, support can still make a difference.
As mentioned above, silence is good, but you should still make it a point to say something kind every so often. Sometimes, the person having the attack may ask if you’re still there, and you can just confirm that you are. Now, the person may not ask, and if that’s the case, say you’re there every few minutes, but maintain the silence as much as possible.
When you do talk, stay calm. Don’t act upset or worried, which may help the person calm down a bit. This means you’ll need to be soft-spoken and speak slowly.
It may be hard to get used to talking like this, but you don’t have to do this too long. You should know that your voice can do a lot if you use it right. If the person you’re trying to help has a lot of these attacks, it might be a good idea to work on your voice so that you can be more helpful when your loved one needs your support.
You can say the following when these attacks occur:
• Say the person’s name.
• Say that you care.
• Be encouraging during this time.
Try not to elaborate too much when you say these things. Be direct and short, and allow the silence to take center stage.
Breathing With Them
Breathing can become challenging when someone has a panic attack. It can get very scary. This is usually around the time when silence is probably best, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. It’s common for someone having a panic attack to experience the following:
• Feeling weight on their chest
• Almost suffocating
• Feeling a lump in the throat
• Severe muscle tension
• Strong heart palpitations
• Uncontrollable restlessness
While there’s nothing you can do to force your loved one to breathe better, you can certainly help. You can breathe together, but make sure you breathe at a steady pace. For a while, this is going to seem pointless because they will continue to have trouble breathing, but stick with it. Breathe in deep and exhale, and maintain that pace.
Make sure it’s loud enough so that the person can hear you. Slowly but surely, this person will start to imitate you given enough time. It’s a strange phenomenon, but people copy each other sometimes; it’s natural, very human, and it’s something you can use to try to help this person breathe more effectively.
Once you know the person’s breathing is getting better, you could tell him or her to continue breathing with you.
Even if you don’t speak a lot, sufferers can hear that you’re breathing with them, and that comfort may help a person out of a panic attack.
The truth is that practicing breathing is important. Once the panic attack passes, it would be a good idea to teach this person how to master breathing techniques.
You won’t always be there to support the sufferer through these attacks as much as you may want to. It’s possible that a person may not be able to communicate with anyone during a panic event. If that’s the case, go over how to breathe effectively. Teaching a person how to breathe can mean the world.
Lessons in Breathing
The following are some things you should go over when teaching someone how to breathe during an attack:
• You need to breathe slowly.
• Always breathe through your nose.
• Exhale only through your mouth.
• Take deep breaths.
• Try to focus on your breathing.
• Close your eyes if that’s helpful.
Some folks find it helpful to count from one to five when taking a deep breath, and if that works for the sufferer, then he or she should do this.
Make no Assumptions
No panic attack is alike, so try not to make any assumptions. Well, some things are similar, like breathing trouble, but what the person is going through could be different.
You can ask how you can help but do so in a calm manner. If the person dealing with the panic attack can’t answer just yet, then wait until the right time.
Don’t insist too much; as mentioned earlier, just be there, and let the sufferer answer later.
This person could need medication or some kind of calming device. Whatever it is, be ready to listen because making the sufferer repeat him or herself is not ideal. Of course, if you have to ask, you must keep your composure; stay calm even if this person seems agitated.
Distractions Can Work
Every so often, the only thing you can do to help during a panic attack is to distract. You probably can’t do this at the height of an attack, but you can try to distract the person before the attack gets too bad or once the sufferer starts to calm down.
The only thing you have to do is figure out the best distraction method, and there are many things you could do. Some folks resort to comedy, and if you feel like you’ve got the chops or know a few jokes, then go ahead and try that. If you’ve got a shared experience, then remind your loved one of a funny moment you both shared, and that could make a difference.
Comedy is hard to get right, so don’t feel like you have to be funny right now. If you prefer to do something else, then do that. You can talk about current events or share a personal story to get your loved one to think about something else. Maybe you can talk about something in pop culture that your loved one cares about. Hearing about a passion might bring the person out of a panic attack.
Some people try to offer a puzzle or a riddle. The person having this attack may not be ready for a puzzle or a riddle right now, but the brain is always intrigued by this. It wants to find the answer. It wants to know, and you can use that to your advantage. You can go as simple or as difficult as you want to go with these puzzles or riddles.
You can also redirect everything to the person in need. You can ask the person to tell you about a time when he or she felt better. Try to ask something open-ended so that the person has time to think about the answer before answering. When you receive an answer, listen carefully and always ask follow-up questions. This tells the sufferer that you’re actively listening, and it helps in distracting from the attack.
When someone’s going through a panic attack, you need to be empathetic. This experience may not make sense to you. This is not the time to discuss how strange you think this disorder is. It is not the time to dismiss or belittle the ailment.
You need to ignore your inner thoughts right now and just try to be as empathetic as you can be. When you’re given the opportunity, try to validate fears or worries. If you don’t do this, the person dealing with the panic attack might only get worse, and that’s the last thing you want right now.
Sometimes, people going through a panic attack also fear that people will dismiss this condition. These thoughts could contribute to an attack. You don’t want to be that person, especially when they’re feeling so badly.
These attacks feel incredibly overwhelming. The person could feel like death is upon them. It feels horrible, so you need to treat it as such until the moment fully passes. If you can’t talk just yet and the person needs silence, you might want to lend your support and understanding through touch.
If the person allows you to, you can hold a hand or maybe embrace ever so slightly. These gestures tell anxiety sufferers that you understand. It tells them you’re validating all the anguish and fear they’re feeling at the moment. Just make sure it’s okay to touch them. Some folks going through this need you to stay away, so always ask before you try to touch them.
Some attacks are so severe that no matter how much you do, you might need some extra help from folks who know what they’re doing. If this is the case, then it’s important to have a number handy.
You don’t want to do research online during a time like this. You should have a number readily available to get the help you need. You can reach the hotline at 866-903-3787 to get additional help from folks who can make a difference.