How to help someone through a panic attack

Posted by Masumah Pirbhai on

Panic attacks are a very personal experience. It is unique to each person and can be triggered by different factors.

There are a few techniques that could be helpful - we’ve detailed two below to help you or a loved one.

Above all else, remember these:

  • A panic attack can be very scary for the person suffering, so it is important that you stay as calm as you can
  • Reassure them that they are experiencing a panic attack and that you will stay with them until it passes
  • Listen to them - don’t assume what might work for them. Instead let them talk (they might even tell you what helps them)
  • Stay with the person until it passes (unless they prefer to be alone)
  • Encourage them to talk, because talking will distract their thoughts and regulate their breathing 
  • Recommend techniques that might help, such as the two we have outlined below 

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This is a grounding technique that brings a person back to the present, and helps them to recognize that they are safe. 

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

You can use this technique when you feel: like the anxiety is taking over; numb; like you are in a dream; lost in past events; or having an out-of-body or out-of-reality experience.


Breathing technique

Breathing can get very shallow during a panic attack. 

The adrenaline is trying to prepare you for what seems like a dangerous situation and your body goes into fight or flight mode. 

Put your hand below your belly button

Inhale for 4 seconds, expanding your belly

Hold for 6 seconds

Exhale for 8 seconds, letting the air out of your belly

Repeat until calm

(feel free to change up the counts - try 4 seconds square if that works better for you)

This causes an automatic nervous system shift from sympathetic state (fight or flight) to parasympathetic response. 

 

Verily with every hardship comes ease cuff mental health awareness

 

Helpful things you could say

"You can get through this."

"I am proud of you."

"How can I support you right now?"

"Focus on your breathing. Stay in the present."

"It's not the place that is bothering you; it's the thought."

"What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous."

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