A Guide – helping someone experiencing a panic attack

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Panic attacks are more common than you think and it’s a good idea to know how to help during a panic attack, whether that’s a family member or friend .

What does a panic attack feel like?

A panic attack can be scary for the person experiencing it and worrying for friend and family.  Some clients who have had panic attacks describe them as feeling like the room is closing in on them, they struggle to focus on what’s going on around them, their vision can become blurry and voices turn to fuzzy noise.  Some liken the experience to having a heart attack due to the sensation of a tight chest, tight throat and palpitations and many clients have called an ambulance or gone to hospital because they are so worried.  The thing to remember and take reassurance from is that although panic attacks can be distressing, they are not life threatening.

Here’s some things you can do to help during a panic attack…

  1. Have an understanding of what the person might be feeling – a racing heartbeat, feeling faint or dizzy, sweating, feeling nauseous, pain in their chest, shakiness, or chest pain. Generally panic attacks last from 5 – 20 minutes
  2. Stay with them, stay calm and try and get some fresh air in to the room
  3. Reassure the person that the attack will pass
  4. Encourage them to take deep breaths – count with them ensuring that the out breath is slightly longer than the in breath, for example, count to 3 for the in breath and 5 for the out breath
  5. Recognise that a panic attack is frightening, try not to cajole them into another activity
  6. Try encouraging them to engage with their senses, picking out separate things they can see, hear, smell or feel
  7. Ask them what you can do to help
  8. Give them time to recover – panic attacks can feel exhausting.

Is there anything esle we can do to help?

Help during a panic attack can be followed up afterwards by checking in with them.  Encourage them to talk about any worries they may have and make sure they know that they can always talk to you if things get overwhelming.

Finally, you could make some recommendations to help them manage anxiety or prevent future panic attacks.  Encourage them to look at helpful apps such as Headspace or Calm or supportive helplines.  You may want to signpost them to Well Minds Online to access our self-help guides to relaxation and breathing techniques or encourage them to visit their GP.

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