The Internet is replete with articles and stories about sufferers of panic or anxiety attacks. You will also come across numerous ways of dealing with such conditions. However, most of them address the individual undergoing a panic attack.
Experiencing the tormenting situation is most vulnerable. But, often, it is also quite challenging to be around such a person. You would want to reach out to your friend or loved one with all that you have. However, it is not of any help if you do not know how to make it better for them.
What To Keep In Mind During a Panic Attack
The fundamental thing to remember is that panic or anxiety disorder is not merely the jitters you have a night before a critical examination. It is not even the cold feet one might get at the thought of getting hitched! That is nervousness and does not rob you of your power to rationalize. However, an anxiety attack comes like a deluge. It can be highly irrational. It gets the better of you even before you realize it, and you will be rendered helpless.
Panic attacks come out of nowhere and can last anywhere between 5 and 25 minutes. The short duration of heightened anxiety can be devastating enough. They come and go in a continuous loop until the triggering factor diminishes. However, this also gets quite tricky. Often the person is unable to figure out what has led to the anxiety attack.
To put things in perspective, let’s say you’re asleep at night. Suddenly you wake up to the sound of someone breaking in. Of course, any normal person would start sweating. He or she would be accompanied by heavy breathing, racing heartbeat, nausea, a feeling of pressure, etc. This is panic.
A panic attack, however, is different since it can just happen spontaneously. It does not even need any stimuli to arouse it. Even if you are not in a dangerous or scary situation, the body can react in an off-balance manner. It is a much graver psychological condition. It can be slightly alleviated you the victim is with someone comfortable. All that they need is an assurance that everything will become alright.
How To Help Someone During Panic or Anxiety Attacks?
Panic or anxiety attacks have a tendency to occur at any hour or place. There can be a reason or not, but that’s never the first priority while helping someone dealing with panic or anxiety attacks. There are simple things that can help your loved one through the terrible feeling of anxiousness and panic. However, it is highly advisable that these steps are to be followed in minor cases only. In major cases where the person is suicidal or complaining of breathing issues and chest pain, rush them to a hospital immediately.
Remind the person that they are not obligated in any way to stay where they are
If they are panicking about something, they can leave the place that adds to their discomfort. If you can, offer them a ride home depending on how alarming the conditions look. However, please don’t put any pressure on them.
Assure the person that there is nothing to be afraid of
Rationalization needs calm and composed. Under a panic attack, an individual hardly thinks clearly, let alone logically. Sad as it is, they fail to understand that there is no reason to panic. They should feel safe in your company, and it is your responsibility to convince them that you will help them through this phase. Reassurance is the key.
Let the victim know that a panic attack is temporary
While those few minutes of a panic attack can be torturous enough, it is still a tad comforting to know that it is not going to last forever. Remind them that it will soon be gone.
Encourage them to breathe during a panic attack
In really severe cases of anxiety attacks, the person might even forget to breathe correctly. Tell them to take a deep breath for four seconds, then exhale for four seconds, and continue this cycle. The respective victim must breathe in the correct pattern to make a difference.
Try to have an engaging conversation
If the person concerned is a friend of yours, you are likely to know their areas of interest. Casually, try to bring up such topics to distract them. However, make sure you do not overwhelm them with an elaborate conversation. The trick is to touch their favorite chords subtly so that the feeling of intense panic subsides.
Stay with them
The person panicking might ask you to leave, but more often than not, it’s their anxiety talking. A panic attack might worsen if the person stays alone. Their thoughts would engulf them. Stay with them, no matter what.
What Not To Do If Someone is Having Panic or Anxiety Attacks?
Since you are here to help your loved one, you have read the do’s thoroughly and may have even succeeded in helping them. But keep in mind that there are things you need to avoid else the situation may worsen. Handling a person with panic or anxiety attacks can be difficult or too intimidating. Hence, it is vital to also keep in mind what not to do when someone is having a panic or anxiety attack.
Don’t be fooled by Denial During a Panic Attack
When a person going through an anxiety attack is asked if they are alright, the chances are that they will answer in the affirmative. However, if you can sense something amiss, give due importance to the situation. Their assurance should not mislead you if there are apparent symptoms of a panic attack.
Don’t tell the person to calm down or relax
In all likelihood, this will worsen the anxiety. As mentioned before, anxiety attacks are quite a serious affair with underlying psychological connotations, so a simple “calm down” or “relax” will do more harm than good!
Don’t ask why they are panicking
The sufferer usually does not have the mental clarity to ascertain what they are panicking about. So these people are as clueless as you are.
Don’t brush it off
Sufferers of panic attacks go through such episodes repeatedly, and they have no control over them. Do not presume that just because it is a regular thing with them, they must be accustomed to it. On the contrary, each time such a panic attack strikes, it agonizes them, even if they have been experiencing it for years. Just drive it into your head- Do not ignore any panic attacks.
Don’t use silly things to distract them during a panic attack
When someone is undergoing a panic attack, it doesn’t help to ask him to look at some random stuff or stare at you for a few seconds, or anything like that. And no, they cannot simply close their eyes and picture something sweet and gentle to snap out of it. It never works that way! The person can figure out that you’re trying to distract them. Thus this is completely ineffective.
Don’t seem irritated or judgmental
It is the most crucial thing, no matter how obvious it sounds. People suffering from anxiety attacks become afraid of inconveniencing people or inviting their judgments. The worst part is that you won’t understand the problem or how traumatizing it can be. Even if you feel annoyed, keep your cool and remind yourself that your irritation is nowhere close to the sufferer’s anguish.
If someone is battling anxiety issues or has frequent panic attacks, it helps a great deal to be surrounded by people they are comfortable with. As a friend or a family member, even a compassionate “trust me, it will pass away” will make a world of difference. If you know anyone who suffers from occasional panic attacks, be aware and understand how you can make the situation just about a little less terrifying for them.