Panic attacks are terrifying for both the person having it and the people around them. One’s chest tightens, heart races, breath becomes shallow, mind becomes empty of words and full of fear. The world spins with you at its center. The panic spreads from your throat, down into your chest and radiates into your whole body. You want to do something, but you freeze. You want to run, but you can’t run away from yourself. Meanwhile those who care most about you watch in horror that they cannot help you. However, there are somethings we can do to help a loved one who’s having a panic attack.
1.) Recognize the situation
To an outsider, a panic attack can seem to happen without reason and thus it can be difficult to empathize with that person. However, a panic attack is a very serious situation and shouldn’t be treated lightly. Understand that one having a panic attack can’t “just pull themselves together” or “snap out of it.” If it were that easy they would have already done it. Recognize that the situation must be treated with just as much care as a sliced finger or any other physical ailment.
2 .) Take the loved one to a safe place
Once a panic attack starts it can be very difficult to think. Guiding your loved one out of the situation that their panic attack began is the first step to helping them recover.
Panic attacks remove a person from the present moment, but grounding is aimed to bring them back. Simple questions can be extremely hard to answer when the mind races as it does in a panic attack. Ask questions that will make them think about the here and now, but that aren’t too difficult. “What color is the carpet?” “What means of transportation did we use to get here?” “How many windows are in this room?” Are all great questions to ask.
4.) Involve all the senses
Involving as many senses as one can helps one come back to the present moment that much more. Hold their hands or scratch their back to help them feel. Talk or sing to them to help them hear. Ask them to notice things about their surroundings to help them see. If you have anything that smells strongly, wave it in front of their nose to help them smell. If they are able to eat or drink anything, help them taste. The more you can pull from the present moment the easier it will be for them to come back.
5.) Be present
While helping a loved one through a panic attack, it’s important to stay with them in body and mind. Stay off your phone and postpone thinking about other things as much as you can. Don’t physically leave them by themselves either. The true presence of another human that cares about them can do more than you may know.