How to help someone having a panic attack

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!



Sex and Sandwiches

There is a particularly ridiculous notion about men running through our society and culture that I would like to discuss and debunk.  The idea in question suggests that, compared with women (in all our boundless complexities), men are simple.  My problem with this belief lies in how it influences the way many women choose to treat the men closest to them – in a nutshell, as though men need nothing from a relationship other than sex and sandwiches.

In my opinion, men aren’t any simpler than women.  Why would they be?  Sure, guys might have a more direct communication style than women which, I suppose, could lead to the assumption that they are “simpler” to understand, but surely that’s where it ends.

Now, here is the point where I should add that I am neither a man (surprise!) nor a behavioural psychologist.  That said, I feel that the points I am about to put forward are fairly obvious when you actually think about it, as well as that in pursuing and maintaining healthy, loving relationships, there are a lot of women I know (and more in the rest of the world, I’m sure) who are sabotaging their chances at this every day.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  So to give you a little sneaky peek into the area of my brain that likes to amuse itself with such things, here are two things that I believe all men NEED from a relationship, even if they’re not aware of it.

Sexual validation:
As far as I can tell, for most (if not all) of the men of the world, sex is a need.  No doubt about it. It’s a fact of life, literally.   But here’s the catch: the validation he receives from being intimate with his partner fulfills an emotional need that is more important than the physical act itself.  If you’re a guy reading this article, please correct me if I’m wrong about this one, but it seems to me that every man will search for a woman who validates him in this way.

And it would be fair to say that the opposite is also true.   If a woman makes a comment that leaves a guy feeling less than great about himself in that particular area, it creates a fracture in his ego that simultaneously injures his connection with her.

To put it simply, a man needs to see that he:
a) Turns you on
b) Continues to turn you on in the long term

Fresh romance is often so exciting that this is rarely a problem in the early days.  However, we seem to start running into problems when men and women stop proactively showing one another that they turn each other on.  When this doesn’t happen anymore, relationships (including marriages) begin to break down.  Imagine being with someone who isn’t turned on by you – guy or girl, either way, what a totally and utterly awful situation!  Luckily, it’s a relatively easy problem to both avoid and resolve. All it takes is a drop of communication and a teaspoon of effort – bon appetit!

Recognition as a man:
I think that every guy will look for the woman who genuinely sees him as different from any other man on the planet.  A guy needs a woman to both recognise and truly appreciate what makes him unique as a man, and he needs her to point it out.  That’s not to say that women don’t need to be admired on a similar level, but we’re talking about male needs here, and deep, genuine admiration for the sides to him that other people overlook is one of the most important things men need.

Let me make it quite clear that I’m not talking about flattery, nor am I in the practice of suggesting women start pouring oceans of generic compliments into the auditory canals of the opposite sex as a kind of surrogate love potion – it won’t work.  What I am talking about is true admiration, not ego-stroking.   In other words, if a woman walks up to a guy with magnificent eyelashes and tells him he has magnificent eyelashes, she’s paying him the same superficial compliment he’s heard all his life, not admiring him for his uniqueness.  A man needs to feel how deeply a woman admires him, he needs to feel like she ‘gets’  him on a level that no-one else does.  Importantly, the woman who can recognise him in this way quickly becomes extremely special to him, because he feels special around her.


Well, that’s all from me.  Feel free to share this post with your friends and be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below! Happy Tuesday 🙂

Anxiety? What’s it to me?

So before we dive into some of the techniques and strategies that can be used to remove stress from our lives and calm any anxiety-related issues, let’s get a clear idea of what we’re talking about, here. To start with, let’s look at the difference between a number of terms that get thrown around in the world of mental health.

We all feel stressed or anxious sometimes – that’s just part of being human – but for a person with anxiety, these feelings don’t go away and are VERY hard to control. A person with anxiety experiences these feelings continuously, often without any apparent reason. Here are ten of the most common (there are many more!) symptoms of anxiety:

1. Constant worrying
2. Difficulty concentrating
3. Thinking obsessively about things
4. Feeling cranky or irritable
5. Tightness of chest
6. Having trouble sleeping (getting to sleep and/or staying asleep)
7. Racing heart beat
8. Muscle pain (e.g. sore neck, jaw, shoulders or back)
9. Cold and hot flushes
10. Feeling easily tired

As you might imagine, all these symptoms can be pretty exhausting! They can also make it really hard for the person suffering them to go about his/her daily life. Thankfully, there’s a HUGE number of things you can do to ease anxiety, and lots of places and people you can go to for much needed help and support. Anxiety sufferers: you are not alone!!

Panic attacks:
Anyone who has ever had a panic attack will agree with me… it’s pretty awful. Personally, I wouldn’t wish one on my worst enemy (not that I have a worst enemy, but hypothetically speaking). A panic attack is a moment of high anxiety, often characterised by a sudden feeling of dread, as though something very bad is about to happen.

When your body thinks you’re in danger (whether you actually are or not), your sympathetic nervous system gets all excited and starts to release stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline) into your blood stream. This in turn causes lots of immediate, physical changes that prepare your body to either run away from the danger, or fight it — this is called the “fight or flight” response. When you’re having a panic attack, your body does the same thing, even if you’re not really in danger at all. As a result, you may experience some or all of the following:

1. Sweating and/or shivering
2. Feeling terrified
3. Shortness of breath
4. Chest pains/tightness
5. Numbness or tingling sensations (especially in your hands and feet)
6. Dizziness or fainting
7. Shaking
8. Cold and hot flushes
9. Feeling smothered/overwhelmed
10. Racing heart beat
11. Becoming extremely emotional (e.g. uncontrollable crying)
12. Nausea or stomach pains
13. Feeling detached from yourself or the world around you (“depersonalisation”)
14. Feeling like you or what’s happening around you isn’t real (“derealisation”)

Most of the time panic attacks last between 5 and 30 minutes, with symptoms peaking at around 10 minutes. If you’re one of the really lucky ones (like me), you may also know that it is also possible to panic in little bursts, around the clock. This can happen for hours at a time, until the person is able to return to a place where they feel safe and comfortable. After a panic attack, it is normal to feel physically and emotionally exhausted, like you’ve just run a marathon.

The most important thing to remember when you’re having a panic attack is:
It can NOT hurt you, you will NOT die from a panic attack. The horrible feelings WILL pass, and you WILL feel okay again. I promise. 🙂

Panic disorder:
The term panic disorder is usually used to describe cases where panic attacks happen recurrently and unexpectedly, and are disabling in that they impact the way you live your life (such as through avoidance behaviours). Five of the most common traits that have been associated with panic disorder include the following:

1. Feeling scared for at least one month (of experiencing another panic attack)
2. Exhaustion (from sleeping troubles)
3. Irrational fears/phobias
4. Other anxiety-related issues (e.g. depression or post-traumatic stress disorder)
5. Problems related socially to other people, due to feelings of intense anxiety

Many people in the world experience a panic attack once or twice in their lifetime. This is very common and, while it is very unpleasant, it is not panic disorder.

* * *

Hopefully this blog post has given you a clearer idea of the key differences between anxiety, panic attacks, and panic disorder. None of them are very nice to go through, but luckily there are plenty of ways that we can learn to manage and cope with anxiety and anxiety-related conditions. Please feel free to leave comments below, and be sure to keep an eye out for new posts from me coming your way!

Panic Attacks and Wounded Deer

My hands twitch and start to shake. My head feels thick and I become dizzy. Fear clamps down hard on my chest, making it hard to breathe. My heart pounds high in my throat, and I hear my pulse in my ears. The whole world is too loud, too busy and full of nauseating smells. I am absolutely convinced that something very bad is going to happen and, to top it all off, at this point I’m usually crying. Sobbing, actually. Complete with lip-swallowing hiccoughs, and lots of snot.

Panic attacks aren’t very attractive experiences.

I was eleven when I panicked for the first time. As I grew older, they became far more frequent (sometimes up to half a dozen attacks in a day), and I started to say ‘no’ to opportunities and things I used to enjoy, out of fear that I would panic again – fear of fear itself. Now I am in my twenties, and you know what? I’ve had enough of enduring emotional meltdowns at the thought of stepping on a train, going to a party, standing at a bus stop, or leaving the house at night. They say these are the best years you get, so why spend them hiding under the covers? That was six months ago. I’ve come a long way since then, made some huge changes (some more successful than others). Now I want to share both what I know and what I learn in this process with all of you.

Anxiety affects us all differently. If you’ve found your way to this little blog as a panic attack sufferer, I’m hoping that by sharing my knowledge and experiences I’ll be able to help you in some way – at the very least, show you that you are not alone and that there are LOTS of steps you can take to stop them and ultimately regain control of your life. Alternatively, if you don’t suffer with panic attacks but know someone close to you who does, I hope to give you a better understanding of what you can do to help those in your life who struggle with anxiety.

A very clever lady named Emily Dickinson once said, “a wounded deer leaps the highest”. I tend to agree with her. I think there’s a lot of personal strength to be found in overcoming the thing that once caused so much suffering. You learn to believe in yourself and in what you have to offer the world. And maybe if we work together, at the end of all this, that’s exactly what we’ll achieve – maybe one day, we’ll all be roaring at lions.