If you’ve experienced a panic attack before, then you will understand how terrifying the ordeal can be. Your breathing speeds up, your heart races, your vision blurs, and you can even completely disconnect from your reality. This reaction occurs when the adrenal glands are triggered, which activates your fight-or-flight mode in preparation to deal with some external threat.
Panic Disorder affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Thankfully, these sudden blasts of anxious energy are somewhat commonplace (affecting over 40 million adults in the US alone), that many people are already very familiar and compassionate about the problem. However, if this is someone’s first attack, it is not abnormal for them to feel like they might be dying, and they may require your immediate assistance. This is how you can help.
Emergency Steps to Help Someone Who is Having a Panic Attack!
1. Understanding Panic Attacks
The only approach to correctly dealing with an anxiety attack is to recognize it for what it is. These are completely normal bodily functions, and while it may be intensely scary, it is not something to be afraid of. It’s only temporary, and it will pass (usually in less than 10 minutes although severe cases can extend longer). Ensure that the person is aware that what they are currently experiencing is a standard panic attack and it’s not a fatal concern.
2. Relocate to A Safer Area
If at all possible, your first step should be to remove the individual from this heightened environment, and into a quieter atmosphere. Sit them down in a comfortable position and help them to relax by remaining calm yourself. Make sure they know that you are there and you are not going anywhere, ready to provide them with anything they need until this chaos has reached its conclusion.
3. Controlled Breathing
Minimizing your stress with breathing techniques has grown to be one of the most popular anti-anxiety suggestions for good reason. Panic attacks cause one to perform quick, shallow breaths, and this hyperventilation will only result in a faster heartbeat and a lighter head. Ask them to inhale for four seconds into the diaphragm, holding it in for a further two seconds, and then releasing for four more. This will bring their focus back into the room while sending the message to the brain that there is no trouble anymore.
4. Reducing the Heartbeat
Adrenaline will cause the heart to pump faster. This may be misinterpreted as a heart attack, which is why you must assure the sufferer that it is all part of the fight-or-flight process. Breathing exercises will help reduce this over-excitable pounding, but you can also slow it down by distracting them from the fear. If you are concerned that there may be an actual cardiac risk involved, consider keeping a stethoscope on hand which will provide good acoustics to observe heart rate and rhythm and phone emergency services if there are any persistent irregularities.
5. Develop a Mantra
Thoughts will race around an anxious mind, hence why you should find the best way to interrupt this whirling inner turmoil. Do not tell them to calm down or that there is nothing to worry about, as these fruitless suggestions may only provoke the symptoms even further. Instead, repeat positive affirmations, such as “you are safe, and no one can harm you”, “you’ve been through this before, you’ll get through it again”, “this is just a panic attack, it is not dangerous”, and “I am right here”.
6. Distract the Sense of Sight
Another well-documented defense against panic attacks is to distract the sufferer from the roller coaster in their mind by gently guiding their focus back to the present world. One of the fastest ways of achieving this is to run through each of their senses and try your best to dominate that information. Start with the sight by looking around the room and pointing out specific visual objects, asking the individual to describe them in detail. You could also try paging through a magazine or even turning on a television if you’re desperate.
7. Distract the Sense of Hearing
You can alleviate the buzz of anxiety simply by utilizing your calmest of voices. Engage in a slow conversation, count backward from 10, sing a silly song, or tell them an interesting story. If you have a knack for humor, now is your time to shine, as the benefit of laughter could be the shortcut to salvation. Otherwise, play some soothing music or the sounds of whales for a sedative effect.
8. Distract the Sense of Touch
Your nervous system is split into two branches. The first is the sympathetic system which activates these fight-or-flight responses, exploding nervous energy throughout the body. On the other side, there is the parasympathetic branch, which regulates rest and recovery. You can shock this parasympathetic nervous system into dominance by introducing an abrupt change in temperature, for example, a cold shower or splash of water to the face. If this isn’t available, try massaging the scalp, as this will stimulate the brain’s blood circulation, reduce tension in the neck, and will also feel very pleasant. However, do not touch anyone without their permission, as this may exacerbate their symptoms further.
9. How to Prevent a Repeat Occurrence
Once the situation has concluded and some peace has been restored, you should discuss ways to avoid these incidents in the future. There are various conversations worth exploring, such as their diet, their average amount of exercise, their social life, and their history with drugs or alcohol use, as well as their caffeine intake. Regardless of their situation, ideas like yoga, meditation, nature walks, and group activities will only make a positive impact.
10. Seek Professional Help
If these episodes are frequent occurrences, encourage the individual to go and speak to a medical professional. Remind them that anxiety is a very common ailment and is nothing to be ashamed of. Doctors deal with cases just like this in alarming numbers, and as a result, are well-equipped to treat the symptoms while unraveling the cause.