Hello friends! Today I am going to be writing a guide on what to do when someone you know is having an anxiety or panic attack. First: a disclaimer. I am not a trained professional, doctor, or psychiatrist. I’m just a person with anxiety sharing what I want someone to do if I were to have an attack. This also means that the tips here won’t work for everyone out there with anxiety.
Tip #1: Be prepared
If there is someone in your life who suffers from anxiety or panic disorders, ask them about panic attacks. Politely inquiring, without pushing too much, can open important dialog. It also lets that person know that you understand that they struggle with this issue, and you are interested in helping them cope. It is also a good idea to ask them how they experience their attacks and how they want to be treated during them. While anxiety attacks can be pretty standard, many people experience different symptoms and want those to be dealt with differently that how someone else might. For example, one person may want to be held and hugged while in a panic attack, but someone else may feel claustrophobic and would hate to have someone touch them while they feel that way. First step to helping someone with their mental illness is to ask them for their perspective.
Tip #2: Let them lead
Often times a panic attack can be a result of feeling like the person is completely out of control or overwhelmed. They feel like they have no power over something in their life, and their anxiety builds up over it, resulting in an attack. For this reason, it’s important to always be asking the person what they want from you during the attack. Do you want me to hug you right now? Is rubbing your back like this helping? Do you want me to leave you alone? Do you want to leave this place? Ask them what they want, but also be ready for a lot of “I don’t know.” If they say that, accept it and try something else. The goal is to be there for them, not overwhelm them with choices they can’t make at the moment.
Tips #3: Physical touch
Even the most basic touch can really help someone who is panicking. It can make them feel more grounded and real if they are disassociating. It also reminds them they are not alone. For me, I usually appreciate a hand on my shoulder, just reminding me that someone is there and they have my back. Holding the person’s hand or hugging them are also good, but make sure that person is comfortable with you touching them before you do it. The other issue about touching someone in a panic attack is that they might not react the same way as they normally would. It’s important not to take offense if someone who normally love hugs shoves you away or gets upset. Simply move away and accept that they just need to be alone for a minute.
Tip #4: Let them express
Please never tell someone to calm down or stop crying if they are in a panic attack. Even if you think they are over-reacting, trust me they are already extremely aware of that. If you are in a public place, try to remove that person from the environment quickly, don’t just tell them to be quiet. Sometimes there are certain behaviors that you should try to stop, such as hyperventilating, but avoid talking down to them or demanding they stop immediately. Speak calmly and ease them back to a safe state. The only exception to this would be if the person begins harming themselves, in which case all bets are off and you need to stop that person immediately. I still don’t recommend raising your voice.
Tip #5: They will be sorry
There is a very good chance that after the event is over, the person will feel very guilty for how they behaved. They will probably say that they are sorry for embarrassing you or for acting irrationally. It’s very important you don’t brush off this apology. Make sure they know that you accept it and don’t blame them for what happened. Say “That is okay,” or
“I’m just glad you’re feeling better now.” Try to avoid saying don’t worry about it, or just forget about it. Not only will that not happen, but it sounds like you are upset or offended and just don’t want to talk about it. Make it clear that you’re not mad or upset, and you were just concerned for their well being.
Those are my top 5 tips on how to react when someone is having a panic attack. Let me know if this helped you at all in the comments below. Also, to those who have anxiety or panic disorders, let me know if there is anything important that I missed. Later days!