What Not To Do When Someone Is Having A Panic Attack

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The feeling of impending doom is the most common symptom that a panic attack is coming. This symptom is pretty general and quite hard to describe unless you’ve felt it yourself. It’s a feeling of extreme stress coupled with a loss of control – and in some cases, without “real” stimuli. Panic attacks are sudden moments of extreme anxiety that cause disorientation, dizziness, and an elevation of heart rate and blood pressure. People having a panic attack can find it hard to breathe – a dangerous symptom if the attack is not managed correctly and timely within the next few minutes. People can even lose consciousness if the panic attack is not brought under control. [1][2]

7 Panic Attack Do’s and Don’ts

1 – DON’T aggressively tell the person to calm down. [1] News flash – telling a person to “stay calm” doesn’t automatically calm them down. A panic attack is driven by anxiety with or without stimuli, and just because you tell a person to stay calm and that nothing is wrong will do little to help. By aggressively telling a person to calm down, you can even worsen the attack.

2 – DO find a calmer place. Often, panic can be triggered or exacerbated by being in an overstimulating environment. Loud sound, flashing lights and crowds can potentially contribute to this. If the person has known PTSD triggers such as disturbing images, these should be avoided. If it is easy to do so, take the person to a calmer place. Another thing that can actually help is something physically soft and comforting. This is why some people take great comfort in their pets – petting a soft furry animal such as a rabbit, cat or dog can be very calming. Physical touch such as hugs, or even a soft fleecy blanket, can also work wonders for soothing anxiety.

3 – DON’T freak out. As the person who is able to help another person manage his or her panic attack, you have to keep yourself calm, positive and reassuring. [1] If they see you panic, it will worsen the attack. Being surrounded by high levels of emotion can contribute to worsening the other person’s anxiety.

4 – DO try to breathe with them. You can grab the person’s hand and place it on your chest, telling them to match your breathing. Slow, regular breathing will help make it easier to ride out the attack.

5 – DO stay empathetic. Be there for them. Offer your support with statements like, “I am here for you”, “Everything is going to be ok” and “You are not alone, I am here”. Anxiety attacks can come from feelings of loneliness; if the person having the attack knows he or she is not alone, the panic attack may subside faster.

6 – DON’T retreat from reality. While some panic attacks are sudden and without cause, more often than not the source is a real threat. It can be a big exam or presentation which amps up your levels of stress, leading to the panic attack.

7 – DO face your fears. If you suffer from recurrent panic attacks because of an identified fear, learn to face them. If you know that someone you love or close to you suffer from panic attacks, help them try to overcome their fears. Facing what scares you head on will help you realize that there was nothing to fear in the first place.

8 – Herbs and supplements to investigate: 1) Valerian – though note, this may induce drowsiness. 2) Lavender – generally regarded as very calming. Even just opening a bottle of lavender essential oil and having it nearby to create a diffuse aroma may help. See also this full list of herbs for anxiety.

Panic attacks are tricky and hard to manage. Keep these tips in mind to help make it easier to ride out panic attacks and even eliminate them all together. Remember, recurrent panic attacks can be a symptom of an underlying anxiety disorder. Don’t be embarrassed if you feel like you need help; seek support from a loved one, friend, or a doctor. [1][2]


[1] Anxiety BC. Self-help Strategies for Panic Disorder. http://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/adult_hmpanic.pdf

[2] NHS (2013). Dealing with panic attacks. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/coping-with-panic-attacks.aspx

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