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Supporting Someone Through A Panic Attack

panicAnxiety is a normal part of life. Everyone experiences anxiety as a normal reaction to stress, and some experience more or less than others. However, when one has an anxiety disorder, their anxiety becomes excessive, and they have a difficult time controlling it.[1] It begins to interfere with their daily life.1 It even continues after the stressor is gone.1 This anxiety can lead to phobias and fears that are often accompanied by feelings of impending doom.1 It is a difficult disorder.

The common signs of anxiety include diarrhea, irritability, restlessness, headaches, sweating, upset stomach, muscle tension, anger, and rapid heartbeat.1 People can suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Phobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Agoraphobia.1 These are very common disorders, and many suffer from them. 1

A panic attack brings about sudden attacks of fear with no reason.1 A physical reaction is triggered, although there is no real threat or danger—and it can happen without warning, at any time.1 Symptoms peak within ten minutes, and the person will usually fear experiencing another panic attack, avoiding situations where they may occur.1 This is agoraphobia.1 The person may be afraid to leave there home, finding nowhere else safe.1 When they do leave, they may experience panic attack symptoms: feelings of impending doom, fear of losing control, trembling, hyperventilation, chest pain, headaches, tightness in their throat, trouble swallowing, hot flashes, and sweating—just to name a few.1 It is a very scary experience.

There are many treatments available for someone who has panic attacks. Therapy can help them cope with their triggers and symptoms, and pharmacotherapy can help to manage them, as well.1 Relaxation training, cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and support groups are very effective forms of treatment.1

If you know someone who suffers from panic attacks and happen to be there when it happens, there is much that you can do—if you educate yourself.1 Here are a list of tips to help:

  • Listen.1 Do not try to solve the attack, as you cannot fix it or take it away. Just lend an ear.
  • Support.1 Learn how the person needs support during this scary time. Find out what will help them and what they need from you during an attack. Then, do just that.
  • Respect.1 Never belittle an attack. It is very real for them.
  • Understand.1 When a person is having a panic attack, they are not concentrating on rationality. The situation will not go away by trying to rationalize with them.
  • Believe.1 Even if you do not understand what they are going through, be there for them. Do not try to force them out of an attack—it will make it worse. Let it happen, and their bodies will relax on their own. If it doesn’t, take them to the nearest emergency room.
  • Seek Professional Care.1 There are ways that a person can recover. Advise them to seek professional care—but not during an attack. Instead, wait until they are in a calm place and talk to them in a caring way.
  • Be a Friend.1 Encourage them, provide comfort, help them focus on the task at hand. Just be there for them. This is exactly what they need during an attack.


[1] Nieves, H. (2014). How to Support a Person with Panic Attacks or Anxiety Attacks:. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 10, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mental-health-awareness/2014/02/how-to-support-a-person-with-panic-attacks-or-anxiety/

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