This is for the partners, friends and family of all the people in the world who deal with panic attacks.
Panic attacks are incredibly scary, but not just for the person experiencing them. If someone close to you suffers with anxiety, I’m sure that there have been many occasions where you’ve desperately wanted to help this person, but weren’t (and maybe still aren’t) quite sure of the best way to do that. To you, caring and well-meaning support person, I say this: welcome to my blog post.
Below the introductory gibber jabber I’ve got going up here, you will find an outline of the best things to do to help someone recover from a panic attack more quickly (as well as what to avoid at all costs), including a short explanation of WHY these things are important. You will also find a little list of some encouraging phrases that you can (and should not) use with the person you are supporting.
- Know what a panic attack is.
This is so important. If you try to understand what it feels like to have a panic attack, it will become a lot easier to intuitively know how to behave around someone who is experiencing one. Before you read on, find out what is involved in a panic attack by clicking on this sentence.
- Please don’t panic, too.
If you start freaking out while someone is having a panic attack, it’s like sending a great big red flashing confirmation signal that they SHOULD be scared because the danger is real (when of course, it isn’t). It comes back to survival, really — if one little furry meerkat suddenly detects a threat on the African plains (a hungry hawk, for instance) he becomes alarmed, and makes a series of high-pitched squeaky cries so all the little furry meerkats in his little furry meerkat family can react immediately by scurrying away to hide. The little furry meerkat community’s fearful response is based solely on the behaviour of the one who raised the alarm, even if they haven’t perceived the danger themselves. It’s a good system, just not if you happen to be a civilised human being with an anxiety problem. Instead, if you’re a support person, please try to…
- Stay calm.
You really can’t expect someone to relax when you’re running around like a blue-arsed fly. It’s just not going to happen. Speaking in soft, slow, reassuring tones can help the person experiencing a panic attack to feel reassured because (like the little furry meerkats) if you’re calm, maybe there’s no real danger after all.
- Be patient.
A panic attack will usual last between 5 and 30 minutes, peaking at around 10 minutes. As scary as it is, it will pass. You can remind them of this. But it is important that you let the person sort themselves out at their own pace. This is primarily because feeling rushed can actually trigger a panic attack in many people who suffer with anxiety, so it makes sense that rushing a person while they are already panicking is likely to make things worse.
- Do NOT say:
- “Calm down”
- “Get a grip”
- “Don’t be stupid”
- “Don’t be ridiculous”
- “Stop freaking out”
- “I’m stressed out, too”
- “What’s wrong with you?”
- “Don’t be a coward”
- “It’s not a big deal”
- “Pull yourself together”
Instead, try saying :
- “I’m here for you”
- “What can I do to help?”
- “You are safe, and you will be okay”
- “I am proud of you”
- “I know this feels scary, but it will pass”
- “Breathe low and slow”
So there we have it. Five key points to consider the next time someone close to you is having a bit of a rough time with their anxiety and could use your support. Please be aware, though, that on top of all this it is always a good idea to actually ask the person you care about what they, as an individual, would like you to do to help in these situations. Just as in all other areas of life, everyone is different. Many people who suffer with panic attacks feel quite claustrophobic and prefer to have a lot of space. Personally, however, I find physical contact hugely reassuring and have always found that my panic attacks rage on for the longest when I’m alone. This is why it’s so important to have these conversations, and they can do a world of good.
If you have found this post as a panic attack sufferer, show it to your friends and family — help them to help you — just knowing that somebody understands can make you feel so much better, especially if that somebody is a loved one.
What are some other good ways to help someone having a panic attack? As always, feel positively free to leave comments and questions below. Have a great week!