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How to Help Someone Having a Panic or Anxiety Attack – What to Do (and Not)

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

panic or anxiety attack

Witnessing someone having a panic or anxiety attack can be distressing and overwhelming, especially if you're unsure how to assist them. While everyone's experience with anxiety or panic attacks is unique, there are some general guidelines you can follow to provide support and help alleviate their distress.

Understanding Panic and Anxiety Attacks:

Panic attacks are intense episodes of sudden and overwhelming fear or discomfort, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, trembling, and a sense of impending doom. Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are prolonged periods of heightened anxiety, accompanied by persistent worry, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. Contact: Revive Therapeutic Services

What to Do to Help:

1. Stay Calm:

Remain calm and composed, as your own demeanor can have a significant impact on the person experiencing the attack. By staying calm, you provide a sense of stability and reassurance.

2. Create a Safe Environment:

Help the person find a quiet and comfortable space, away from crowded or overwhelming situations. Encourage them to focus on their breathing and reassure them that they are safe.

3. Encourage Deep Breathing:

Guide them to take slow, deep breaths. Encourage inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth. Deep breathing can help regulate their heart rate and promote relaxation.

4. Offer Reassurance:

Use calming and reassuring words to let the person know that you are there for them. Remind them that the panic or anxiety attack is temporary and will pass. Validate their feelings and let them know it's okay to experience these emotions.

5. Be Non-Judgmental:

Avoid making dismissive or judgmental comments about their experience. Instead, provide empathy and understanding. Understand that panic and anxiety attacks are genuine and can be debilitating for the person going through them.

6. Validate Their Experience:

Acknowledge their emotions and experiences. Let them know that what they're feeling is real and that they are not alone. Validate their feelings without trying to minimize or rationalize them.

7. Help Them Focus:

Assist them in redirecting their focus away from the anxiety or panic. Encourage them to engage in grounding techniques, such as describing their surroundings or focusing on a specific object. This can help bring their attention away from the attack and back to the present moment.

What to Avoid:

1. Don't Dismiss or Minimize Their Experience:

Avoid phrases like "Just calm down" or "It's all in your head." These statements can invalidate their feelings and make them feel more isolated. Remember, their experience is real and deserves validation.

2. Don't Pressure Them to Talk:

While open communication can be helpful, don't pressure them to talk about their feelings or share details of the attack. Let them take the lead and express themselves at their own pace.

3. Avoid Physical Restraint:

Refrain from physically restraining or confining the person, as it may intensify their anxiety. Allow them to move around if it helps them feel more comfortable and in control.

4. Don't Make Assumptions:

Each person's experience with panic and anxiety attacks is unique. Avoid assuming that you know what's best for them or what triggers their attacks. Respect their boundaries and listen to their needs.

When someone is having a panic or anxiety attack, your support and understanding can make a significant difference in their recovery. By staying calm, creating a safe environment, encouraging deep breathing, and offering reassurance, you can help them navigate the difficult moments.

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