The Internet is replete with articles and stories about sufferers of anxiety or panic disorders. 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 panic attack.
To put things in perspective, let’s say you’re asleep at night. Suddenly you wake up by 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 be with someone comfortable. All that they need is an assurance that everything will become alright.
The following are some of the do’s and don’ts, and you can follow if you are around someone having a panic or anxiety attack:
What You Need To Do During Panic Attack:
- Remind the person that he/she is not obligated in any way to stay where he/she is: If he is panicking about something, he can leave the place that adds to his discomfort. If you can, offer him/her a ride home depending on how alarming the conditions look. However, please don’t put any pressure on him.
- Assure the person that there is nothing to be afraid of: Rationalisation needs calm and composed. Under a panic attack, an individual hardly thinks clearly, let alone being logical. Sad as it is, he/she fails to understand that there is no reason to panic. He should feel safe in your company, and it is your responsibility to convince him that you will help him through this phase.
- Let the victim know that it’s 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 him that it will soon be gone.
Some Other Do’s
- Encourage him to breathe: In really severe cases of anxiety attacks, the person might even forget to breathe correctly. Tell him to take a deep breath for four seconds, and 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 with such people: If the person concerned is a friend of yours, you are likely to know his/her areas of interest. Casually, try to bring up such topics to distract him. However, make sure you do not overwhelm him with an elaborate conversation. The trick is to touch his/her 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 his anxiety talking. A panic attack might worsen if the person stays alone. His or her thoughts would engulf him or her. Stay with him, no matter what.
What You Need Not To Do During Anxiety
- Don’t be fooled by denial: When a person going through an anxiety attack is asked if he is alright, the chances are that he will answer in the affirmative. However, if you can sense something amiss, give due importance to the situation. His/her 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!
- Please don’t ask why he is panicking: The sufferer usually does not have the mental clarity to ascertain what he/she is 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 it. 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 attack.
Some Other Don’Ts
- Don’t use silly things to distract them: 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 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 judgements. 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 him or her.