Trying to help someone having a panic attack can leave you feeling like you don’t know what to do – today’s blog post covers 3 things you need to do to calm a person in the grips of an anxiety attack.
Telling someone to “snap out of it” never works. Ever. But of you approach an overwhelmed person with empathy, you really can’t go wrong.
Related: Panic Self Help Meditation
Watch the video or continue reading below…
They often come along without any warning.
Some people know what their triggers are.
Many people don’t and that’s part of what makes them so fearful – they seem to come on without any warning whatsoever and we call them an attack because it truly feels like an attack on your body.
Your body sort of feels like it’s shutting you down.
Symptoms of panic attack – people talk about dizziness, feeling like they can’t breathe, heart racing out of their chest, worried that they’re going to pass our or faint, a feeling that they want to run away and hide.
Some people feel like they want to lash out and start fighting and it’s a very overwhelming, overpowering, brain-overriding sense of fear that people experience when they’re going through a panic attack.
If you consume my blogs, it’s quite likely that you experience anxiety and panic attacks yourself.
It’s also a well-known fact that birds of a feather flock together so if you have anxiety, then it’s likely that other friends of yours possibly have anxiety as well and you lean on each other for comfort and support.
Now, just because you go through panic attacks doesn’t necessarily mean that when your friend is going through a panic attack, you’re going to know what to do for them.
I get that a lot with clients – I get clients that will come and see me and they’ll say, “I get panic attacks myself and they’re horrible. But my daughter gets panic attacks. Now, I just don’t know what I can do to calm her down when she’s having a panic attack.”
I had a client last week whose best friend is overseas at the moment and she got a text from her friend in the middle of the night saying, “Oh, my God, I’m having a panic attack, I don’t know what to do. I can’t breathe, I’m worried that I’m going to die.”
And my client felt so helpless and hopeless and alone.
She really had no idea what to do for her friend in that moment.
So, what I said to that client is what I’m just going to cover off in this video with you today.
Before I go into it, I just want to say:
It’s not your role to stop a panic attack for someone.
They have an overblown reaction to some kind of stimulus whether it’s conscious where they know their trigger or subconscious where they don’t know their trigger and their body is stuck in this reaction cycle.
The way to truly heal panic attacks in your life is to get into the reason for that energy pattern that keeps arising.
But when you’re in a situation with someone who is having the panic attack, that is not the time to be getting into trying and undo the energetic patterning.
When someone is having a panic attack, they are in crisis mode and you really just need to do what you need to do to support them and get them through that panic attack.
The other thing that I will say about panic attacks is even though they feel like they will kill you, they won’t.
Even if you do pass out, the minute you lose consciousness, you’ll start breathing normally again, that’s what your body does.
And your body is no different to anyone else’s body.
Everyone’s body does that.
The minute you pass out, your breathing will start returning to normal and your body will reset.
So that’s many people’s biggest worry, that they will pass out or that they’ll die.
It can’t happen.
It really can’t happen.
Panic attacks are scary and they are terrifying but they actually can’t kill you.
They really can’t hurt you.
They’re something that you can get through – they’re not very pleasant at all but you do get through them each and every time.
And the more you get through them and the more you realize that they’re not going to kill you, they’re just a very, very scary thing that you’re going through but it’s a temporary state that you’re in, the easier it becomes to manage them and deal with them and move on in your life so that panic attacks no longer control you at all.
I’m speaking from first-hand knowledge here because panic attacks used to wreck my life.
This is the reason why I choose to help women with anxiety: Because I feel like I am through that now and it’s my purpose and my mission to help support other women getting through anxiety and panic.
Anyway, getting back to what you can do to help someone else who is going through anxiety or panic.
This technique works equally well:
- on the phone
- by text message or instant messenger.
Step 1: Ask them – ‘Are you having a panic attack?’
And you know that they’re scared and they look frozen and they look fearful and they might be having trouble breathing, they might be coughing, they might be feeling dizzy and they might even tell you, “I might be having a panic attack,” in which case, that’s great because they know what’s happening to them.
But if they don’t – if you say, “What’s happening with you?” And they say, “I don’t know,” it’s really important that you say to them, “Do you think you might be having a panic attack?”
Or, “Do you think you might be having an anxiety attack?” because if a person is prone to anxiety attacks or panic attacks, they know or they can recall, “Okay, yes, last time I had a panic attack, it felt quite similar.” SO they might nod to you or they might say yes.
Or they might say no or, “I don’t know.” In which case, it’s really important that you seek medical assistance, you call an ambulance.
There’s people that might say, “Don’t call an ambulance, it’s embarrassing,” I just think it’s much better to be safer than sorry if someone can’t confirm to you that they are having an anxiety attack or a panic attack and they’re presenting with these symptoms, it’s better off just being on the safe side and seeking medical assistance.
But let’s just say they know that this is a panic attack, you know that this is a panic attack.
So you’re aware. You brought the issue out into the light.
“Are you having a panic attack?”
Step 2: Ask them – ‘Do you want me to stay with you?’
And they might say yes or they might say no. Don’t be offended if they say no.
Again, panic attacks can be deeply embarrassing. I’ve been mortified myself when I’ve had panic attacks in public in the past and just really feeling like I’m disrupting people’s day when they offer to stay with me.
People can be very private and they just want to get through it on their own.
But oftentimes, when someone is reaching out to you on the phone or reaching out to you by text, they’re asking you for help.
So, just say to them, “Do you want me to stay with you,” and they’ll say yes or they’ll say no.
If you are helping them via phone or text, let them know, “I’m right here, I’m getting your texts as they come. I won’t leave you. I will stay with you until this passes.”
Step 3: Remain calm and be the rock in the storm
They need something solid to cling to because when someone is panicking, they’ve got no sense of up or down or what is solid for them.
They are feeling really, really ungrounded and out of control in that moment.
So, you as their support person, need to be their rock.
And they way that you’ll be their rock is that you remain calm yourself.
Don’t try to hurry them through the anxiety attack and don’t try to stop the anxiety attack.
Just listen to them as they are going through it.
Say to them, again and again, in a very reassuring way, “This is an anxiety attack, it will be over soon. Just go through it, ride the waves as they come, I’m staying with you. I’m not going anywhere. Nothing is going to happen to you, I’m staying with you, I won’t leave you. We’re going through this together.”
And you remain the strong person. You remain the rock. You remain the one that’s calm and clear and really mindful of the fact that this is a temporary thing that someone is going through.
Then over time, it might take two minutes, it might take five minutes, it might take 10 minutes… the panic will start to subside and the person will start to show that they are beginning to regain a sense of composure.
They might start to feel embarrassed, they might start to laugh at themselves…these are all very positive signs.
These are all signs that the panic and overblown fear reaction is beginning to settle in the person.
So when this starts to happen, just ask “How are you feeling? Just continue to ride this out. How are you going?”
From here, just follow their cues.
And afterwards, you let them know, “it’s okay, I’m here for you. That’s what I am here for. I’m here to support you. I’m here for you no matter what. I will stay with you. That panic attack is not coming back. You’ve had that one, yes, it was a bad one. I agree it was a bad one but you survived it just like you’ve survived all your past panic attacks. You’ve done it, you’ve done really well, I’m proud of you. I’m here for you.” Those sorts of affirming statements are really, really important.
And you can make those statements over the phone, you can do it through text as well.
A word of caution
That’s why it’s really, really important to remain the calm one in this situation because the person who is panicking needs you to remain calm and to remain mindful.
As the panic comes to climax and then begins to take off, your calm energy will begin to override the situation and you’ll find that the other person is beginning to take their cues from you as they come out of the panic and become more calm again and return to their usual state.
The other thing is when panic attacks rule a person’s life, it cane be very, very frustrating not only for the person who’s panicking but to the person who is supporting them over time.
I can definitely identify and sympathize with this frustration and it’s very, very common for a person who loves someone who goes through panic attacks to get frustrated with them and to just wish that they were back to normal again and just wish they’d stop panicking and just wish they’d “pull it together”.
That is not the way to help a person through panic attacks, it’s really not.
Your needs as a support person are equally as important as the person who is panicking but believe me when I say you don’t help a person who has panic attacks by trying to push them to get better again.
What they need is your listening ear, your presence and your support to just be with them calmly as each panic attack comes and as each panic attack goes and to just be that stable supporting influence that a person needs.
And over time, it really does help to lessen those panic attacks. Your support really, really helps.
You might not know what you’re doing 100% of the time, that doesn’t matter.
Your presence is what matters the most. So whether it’s in person or whether it’s by phone or whether it’s by text. If someone is reaching out for you when they’re having a panic attack, just be there for them.
Over on my website, anxiousrelief.com, I have a free guided meditation for people that are going through a panic attack. And the point of this guided meditation is for someone who is panicking to listen to it in the moment and it guides the panicking person through the panic attack and leads them out of it. So, if you’re a supportive person, you know someone who’s going through panic attacks and you want to help someone with them, maybe download this meditation and share it with them.
Finally, thank you for being such a wonderful, caring person who really wants to help their loved-one through anxiety.
Love + light,