Note: I am not a medically trained professional, I am writing from personal experience.
Many of us don’t know what a panic attack is, so I’ll start with the basics.
A panic attack is a rush of intense anxiety. Having a panic attack is frightening and for some people, they don’t know when they are going to have a panic attack. I can tell, but some people can’t. Physical symptoms occur in a stressful situation. Your body is deciding whether to go into fight or flight mode.
But what does a panic attack look like?
A panic attack can come in many forms, a person can feel dizzy, have palpitations, sweat or shake, cry, experience shortness of breath or may feel as though they are being choked. A person may also experience chest pain or nausea and could seem confused. It is a normal reaction for people to cry too.
My panic attacks last five minutes at the most, but they can last up to half an hour for some people.
But what should you do if someone is having a panic attack?
Firstly, don’t tell them to “calm down”. If it was that simple, we could say it in our head and the panic attack would be over. It’s important to sort out the physical symptoms first.
Tell the person to breathe in deeply through their nose and out through their mouth. It allows oxygen to get into the lungs. It may also work for them to think of the word “calm”. It normally helps me as it allows the person to think of the present moment and reality. Some people’s panic attacks can be caused by what may happen in the future ie. a job interview in the afternoon or attending a lecture the next morning.
It can be a normal reaction for people to think they are going to faint, lose control or in extreme cases feel like they are having a heart attack or are going to die. The physical symptoms aren’t anything to worry about. It’s important to reassure the person that this is not going to happen and that they will be fine. The panic attack may pass quicker if someone is there to reassure the person having the panic attack.
Some people may feel tired after a panic attack so it’s important to ask if they feel that way. Sitting a person down may help with the tiredness as all of their energy was focused on their panic attack. You should keep talking to someone after the panic attack has faded to assess how they feel. Even asking, “do you feel okay?” will help you gauge the situation.
You could ask the person what caused their panic attack. Many don’t know, but other people may be fully aware. However, you should always use your judgement as talking about a stressful situation could cause another panic attack. We don’t want that – one is more than enough!
A person may be good at managing their attacks if they have had them before, but if it’s someone’s first time then support would help them dramatically. I can remember my first panic attack. I was on my own and I didn’t know what to do. I just lay down and closed my eyes. 15 minutes later, it was over.
If you want something simple to remember, then remember this: speak, sit, support.
Do you have any advice for those who suffer with panic attacks? Let us know in the comments below!