Brought to you by Open Colleges

Getting help for a panic attack

by Amanda Collins

There’s no need to stand by helplessly when panic strikes. Whether it hits you, or someone you know, there are lots of things you can do to help the episode pass quickly.

Below you will find a top tips guide to helping someone through panic, as well as a guide to helping yourself through a panic attack.

Helping someone through panic

The best way to help a person through a panic attack is to remain calm, stay with them and to reassure them that what is happening to them is a panic attack, that they are safe, and that it will be over soon.

Words matter

Sometimes, just saying the right thing to a person can get them through a panic attack. Try saying things like:

  • You can get through this
  • You are safe
  • I’m proud of you, you’re doing so well
  • What you are feeling is scary, but it’s not dangerous and you are not going crazy
  • It’s almost over.

Ask them what they need. They might want to talk, they might want to go for a walk, or they might just want to lie down and breathe. If they need to “escape”, take them to a quiet area and sit with them. Make them comfortable.

Take them through some breathing exercises.

Breathing exercise

  • Have them breathe in for eight seconds (count it out loud for them), then have them breathe out for ten seconds (again, count it out for them). Have them focus all their attention on mastering this breathing rhythm for at least five minutes.

Bring down body temperature

If they are having hot flushes, you could place a cold face washer over their forehead (but warn them you are going to do it before you do – try at all times to avoid surprising them).

Physical actions

Ask them to repeat a simple physical action over and over again. This will help to bring their focus back to the present. This action could be raising their hands above their head to the count of eight, then lowering them to the count of eight. You could also get them to count backwards from 100.

Avoid criticism at all costs

Never tell the person to “snap out of it”, and never belittle their experience. What they are feeling is real, and it’s terrifying. Their body and mind are in full fight or flight mode. Adrenalin is flooding their body, their senses are firing at rapid rate and their physical responses can actually feel similar to a heart attack.

Be patient, supportive and kind. You will find that their panic subsides much quicker if you are a support rather than a slap in the face. Getting told to snap out of it can often make the situation worse and the panic continue because they feel out of control.

After the panic attack

Spend some time talking with the person about their experience and take time to reassure them that they are okay.

After the panic attack has passed it is important that you also find out whether the person has sought treatment for panic before. If they have not, encourage them to go to their local GP for some advice. Panic attacks can be treated, and in most cases managed and cured.

The most common form of treatment for panic is cognitive behavioural therapy through a psychologist. Encourage the person to speak to their doctor about a referral to a psychologist who specialises in panic and anxiety.

Help someone through panic

Helping yourself through a panic attack

When panic kicks in, it may be hard to think logically, but it’s important that you remind yourself that what you are experiencing is a panic attack, that it is not dangerous and that it will pass soon.

Focus your thoughts

As hard as it might seem, try not to focus on the negative and panicked thoughts in your mind that are feeding your fear, and try to ignore the physical symptoms. The more you feed your fear, the worse your fear becomes.

Instead, focus your thoughts as much as you can. Try to repeat a mantra going in your head over and over again, some suggestions may be:

  • This will be over soon, I can get through it.
  • It’s only fear, it can’t hurt me.
  • These are just feelings, they are not real, they are passing and they will be gone soon.
  • I’ve been through this before, I have conquered this before, and I will conquer it again.

Breathing exercise

Try an exercise where you lie on the ground. Put your hands on your belly, breathe in for eight seconds (count it) and try to expand your chest and belly with the breath. Breathe out for the count of ten.

Focus on this for five or ten minutes. You will begin to feel your pulse rate drop, your mind slow down and your anxiety lessen.

Distract yourself

Try to distract yourself. Seek out someone to chat to, phone a friend, go for a walk or reorganise your drawers. Keep saying your mantra.

Holding an ice cube in your hand can also help to distract you from the panic attack. To do this, grab an ice cube and hold it in your hand for as long as you can, then swap the ice cube into your other hand.

Remind yourself that you cannot die from a panic attack, that you will not and are not going crazy and that what is happening to you are just symptoms of panic, and they will pass.

Closing thoughts

Panic attacks are very common, and it is thought that most people will have at least one during their lifetime. Panic is treatable and curable, and for those that have been suffering in silence, it’s important to know that there is help out there. You are not alone. You do not have to live with panic, and the sooner you get help, the sooner you can live a fear free life.

Comments are closed.