Trying to help someone that’s in the middle of having a panic attack can be hard, and I’m sure a lot of the time people have no idea what to do. In fact, I’d say it makes a lot of people feel helpless and scared themselves. Earlier this week I had a panic attack, and some of the people around me had never seen one before and weren’t sure what to do to help. I was discussing it with my housemates yesterday and I said, “I think I need to give everyone who comes into contact with me a crash course on dealing with panic attacks.” So here it is, a little guide for everyone on how to help somebody that’s having a panic attack.
- Stay calm
I know it’s probably difficult, but the most important thing to do is stay calm. If the person having a panic attack sees everyone around them panicking, they’re going to panic even more because they’re thinking “Oh God, this must be really bad”. Remember that nothing life threatening can result from the panic attack, and they’ll be okay once they’ve calmed down.
- Eye contact
Get the person having a panic attack to look you in the eyes, so that they have something to focus their attention on other than the panic. If they break eye contact, firmly but calmly tell them they need to keep looking at you.
- Deep breaths
Once the person is able to maintain eye contact with you, start getting them to take deep breaths. This works the best if you breathe in sync with them, inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for another four seconds. They might not be able to breathe properly at first if they’re hyperventilating, but keep breathing in sync with them until their breathing returns to normal.
- Don’t panic if they pass out
There’s been a couple of times where I’ve been breathing so quickly that I’ve ended up passing out, which can be really scary for those around you. But just remember that so long as they’re breathing, they have a pulse and they haven’t banged their head on anything they’ll be okay.
- Remove them from public places
If they’re in a public place it’s important to remove them from the situation when it’s safe. The last thing the person having the panic attack wants is to draw any more attention to themselves, and with me when people are watching me it makes me feel even worse. It also helps not to overcrowd the person with people trying to help. While it’s great that lots of people want to help and the person panicking is grateful for that, it’s easier to calm down when you’re only listening to what one person is saying to you.
- Don’t be patronising
You need to be careful what you’re saying when you’re dealing with somebody having a panic attack, because you could very easily make them worse. Don’t tell them to “stop it” or to “calm down” because believe me, if it was that easy we would. Don’t tell them that they’re overreacting, because they already know that. But it’s something that their body is doing and they have absolutely no control over what was going on. And finally, do not under any circumstances make comments like “She/he’s just looking for attention.” The last thing we want is anybody’s unnecessary attention, and remarks like this are extremely hurtful for a person suffering from anxiety. Mental illness is not something that anyone chooses or wants, and mental health deserves just as much respect as physical health does.