What To Do If Someone Is Having a Panic Attack

Would you know what to do if your friend/coworker/family member was having a panic attack? As a person who has panic attacks, I can tell you it can be a very scary situation. The person might be hyperventilating, saying odd things like “something bad is about to happen”, and could even faint. At times like this… what can you do?

When dealing with panic attacks, it’s important to know that everyone is different. Something that calms me down might make someone else even more anxious. Always remember that the person might not calm down right away, so don’t give up. The panic attack will eventually pass. Here’s a few tips I just came up with off the top of my head that could help you if you are ever in this situation.

1. Don’t leave them alone

Although they are likely not in any danger (unless of course, there is real danger causing the panic attack, in which case use your judgement and save yourself) and having someone with them will help to reassure them that they are okay. Try to move other people away from them so they aren’t surrounded by a crowd, which will make them worry more. And being there is important because in the case that they do faint they will need you to make sure that they are still safe. That reminds me…

2. Tell them to sit down

If they’re hyperventilating or feeling faint, tell them to sit with their head between their knees which will help with blood flow to their brain and keep them conscious. And it’s a lot harder to hurt yourself when you pass out if you’re in this position, as opposed to standing. If they have any tight clothing, loosen it. If they say they are feeling warm, help to remove their jacket or sweater as appropriate.

3. Breathe!

Hyperventilating is scary because you feel like you aren’t in control of your lungs. The quick breathing will make you dizzy, and getting dizzy freaks people out more. Encourage deep breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth. This makes you focus on your breath, and gets oxygen efficiently to your brain.

4. Walk it out?

If the attack isn’t full blown yet and they are just worrying, sometimes walking can help. Motion is calming and will force them to focus on something other than that thing they’re worrying about. Don’t tell someone who feels faint to stand up and walk around… common sense. You don’t want them getting hurt.

5. Distraction

My personal favourite, and anyone can do this. “Remember that time we went to see that concert and that girl was wearing those ugly green leather pants?” “Why are you bringing this up now?!” Success! Distracted. Even just talking about things around you can help. The goal is to get the person who is panicking to be out of their own head and back into what is happening around them right now. Try to make the person laugh if you can. Lighten the mood. The thoughts that are making them panic are probably just inventions of their mind. They will be relieved to realize that their worst fears are not in fact coming true.

All in all, remember to be reassuring. Having one panic attack can lead to another, and as unusual as the events may seem, you need to understand that the person is not in any real danger besides the danger that lives inside their head. Remind them that things are okay and will continue to be okay. Then give them time.

Like everything else, this too shall pass.

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About janinerussell

The transition to adulthood; reflecting on the past to create a better future.

2 responses to “What To Do If Someone Is Having a Panic Attack”

  1. saiditomyself says :

    I really like this advice. It’s simple yet effective, but not a lot of people know how to deal with such a freaky situation. Spreading this kind of advice can only serve to improve the general understanding of panic attacks.

    I had a friend who suffered chronic panic attacks, and I actually found a really good method for helping her through it. I convinced her to sit down and talked her through a meditation exercise I learned to help with my mania. 3 deep inhales and exhales. Then a deep breath, count to one, exhale. Deep breath, count to two, exhale. Deep breath, three, exhale. So on until I saw her pupils un-dilate.and her hands stop shaking, then I cut a cheesy joke and encouraged cookies.

  2. Roberta McDonnell says :

    This is great advice. May I just add that the breathing needs to be slow, and that too much oxygen will make the head spin and heart pump faster. Slowing the breath and focusing on a very slow out breath both calms the system and forms a concentrated focus which dissolves the rapid thinking associate with panic. Saying a mantra as well such as calm and lingering on the mmmm at the end is also very helpful. Best wishes 🙂

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