We all experience moments of anxiety and panic in our lives. For some, the panic can become so intense that it can stop them from functioning or even paralyze them into immobility. During a panic attack, it’s often harder to think clearly, so it’s important for us to be there for our friends and family. An effective way to provide help during a panic attack is to stay calm and guide our loved ones through the episode, introducing techniques to help them regain control.
What is Panic?
Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear and anxiety that can often feel unbearable. The symptoms that accompany a panic attack can be physical, mental, or emotional. In some cases, the fear can be so overwhelming that the sufferer might not be able to think clearly. During an attack, one may experience a rapid heartbeat, chest tightening, dizziness and/or nausea, trembling, extreme emotional distress, and thoughts or sensations of impending doom.
Warning Signs of Panic Attack
It’s important to be aware of the physical symptoms of a panic attack and to be able to recognize the signs of an imminent panic attack. The warning signs include:
- Rapid change in breathing patterns
- Nervousness or an increased sense of alertness
- Sweaty palms and feet
- Rapid heartbeat or chest pain
- Confusion, disorientation, and/or feeling disconnected
- Trembling, shaking and/or trembling of limbs
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
How to be an Effective Listener
Listening to someone who is having a panic attack is one of the most powerful acts of caring and support. Here are some tips to help you be an effective listener:
- Establish safety. Make sure the person is in a safe space where they feel comfortable. This may be comforting them in a hug, letting them know they are not alone, and making sure that their environment is free from potential triggers.
- Show empathy. Let them talk about their experience and listen without judging. An important element of helping someone who is having a panic attack is to let them know that you understand and care about them.
- Be mindful of your body language. Lean forward, maintain eye contact, and offer reassuring phrases. It’s helpful to use nonverbal cues to show them that you are focused on their wellbeing.
- Avoid offering unsolicited advice. Simply being present and listening without any judgment will be sufficient. If you feel that you need to say something, stick with comforting and encouraging phrases like “I’m here for you” or “You’ll be okay.”
Ways to Calm An Anxious Mind
When someone is in the middle of a panic attack, it can be helpful to introduce measures that can help them calm down. Here are some useful tips that can help:
- Encourage deep breaths. Deep, slow breaths can help to regulate oxygen flow throughout the body. This can help to relax the body and slow down the physical symptoms of an attack. Let them focus on their breathing and take deep breaths in and out.
- Suggest playful techniques. To help refocus their thoughts, encourage them to engage in distractions such as counting, playing an instrument, or humming. These non-threatening activities will help to ease their mind and provide a sense of control and stability.
- Focus on the present. Remind the person to focus on their immediate surroundings and sensations rather than the anxious thoughts and feelings. Encourage them to note down the sights and sounds around them in the present moment.
- Encourage positive self-talk. Asking them to remind themselves of positive things is another way to help them return to a calm state. Remind them that they can manage their feelings, and they will eventually pass.
Battling Negative Thoughts in the Moment
It is natural for our minds to drift off into negative thought patterns, especially during a panic attack. To help someone in battling those negative thoughts, here are a few tips:
- Distract and refocus. Encouraging them to engage in a more pleasant activity can help to break the loop of negative thoughts. Suggesting engaging in simple tasks like drawing, texting a friend, or listening to music can help to center their focus.
- Build positive coping strategies. By putting the focus on building positive coping strategies, the person can identify and start to work through their own patterns of behavior. This will provide a sense of control and achievement.
- Replace negative thinking with positive statements. Instead of surrendering to the negative thought patterns, they can be encouraged to think positively. Remind them to tell themselves, “I am in control of my thoughts and feelings.” or “I can find strength and peace in this moment.”
Tips for Mental and Physical Well-Being
It is important to encourage the person to take part in activities that can help their mental and physical wellbeing. Here are some suggestions:
- Get plenty of rest. Encouraging them to get a good night’s sleep, and some rest during the day, can help them to restore their energy and focus.
- Eat a balanced diet. Eating healthy food can not only help reduce the intensity of their panic attacks but also increase their overall wellbeing.
- Get physical exercise. Exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, which have a calming effect on the body.
- Be mindful of triggers. Knowing the personal triggers that may increase the intensity of their panic attack can be useful in preventing and managing future panic attacks.
Sources of Professional Help
Although it is important to provide support for someone during a panic attack, it can also be important to encourage them to seek professional help. Here are some sources of professional help:
- Psychotherapists. Working with a psychotherapist can help them to gain professional insight into their mental health, and they can also provide guidance to help manage their condition.
- Medication. Taking prescribed medications can help to curb the intensity of a panic attack, and can be a useful tool in managing panic disorder.
- Support groups. Participating in a support group can give them the opportunity to connect with others who are coping with similar issues. This can be a great way to de-stress, find solace in understanding, and learn more about panic disorder.
Guiding a Friend Through Panic: Empathy and Compassion
Above all, it is important to be an empathetic and compassionate listener for someone who is going through a panic attack. Here are some tips:
- Be patient. Offer compassionate understanding and do not pressure them to “snap out of it” or “calm down.” Rather, be a source of comfort and understanding.
- Identify with them. Validating their feelings and perspectives can be important to alleviate the feeling of isolation. You can also offer to share your own experiences if you have had a similar experience yourself.
- Make the experience less scary. Acknowledging their feelings and reassuring them can help them to feel safe and secure, instead of feeling disconnected or scared.
- Encourage control. Offer empathy and understanding, but encourage them to take control of their own reactions and take responsibility for their own wellbeing.
Providing support for someone who is having a panic attack is of the utmost importance. Being mindful of their physical and emotional needs and offering techniques and coping strategies are essential to better managing the episode. Above all, it is important to offer empathy and understanding, and to remind them that they will eventually come out of this feeling more calm and in control.