Anxiety attacks – also known as panic attacks – can be very frightening for both the person suffering through the episode as well as onlookers. If you are with someone when they have a panic attack, there are some things you can do to help. Here’s how to help someone with an anxiety attack.
What Does an Anxiety Attack Look Like?
The symptoms of an anxiety attack can mirror symptoms of other serious, emergent medical issues which can make it seem life-threatening. A true panic attack is not life-threatening, but if a sufferer does not understand that is what’s happening, the fear of imminent death or true medical emergency can exacerbate their attack.
Symptoms usually come on very quickly and include:
- Rapid, pounding heart rate
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
- Sense of doom
- Numbness or tingling sensation in limbs
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness; feeling faint
- Experiencing chills or overheating
How to Help Someone With Anxiety Attack
If you are with someone who is having an anxiety attack, there are several things you can do.
- Eliminate the onlookers. If the person is mobile, help them walk to a calm, quiet space where they have some privacy. If they are not in a position to move, inform onlookers that the person is having a panic attack and ask them to please give the person some space and privacy.
- Ask the person if he or she is taking any medications. For sufferers who have panic attacks frequently, they may have a prescribed sedative or other medication. If they do have medication, get them a glass of water and read the label to help them take the proper dose.
- Count to ten with the person. To help him regulate his breathing and focus on something besides the attack, ask the person to count slowly to ten. Do this with him.
- Stay with the person. He needs your support during this scary time. Stay with him and stay calm for the duration of the attack, until he assures you that he no longer needs your help.
- Be encouraging and avoid minimizing their symptoms. Symptoms of an anxiety attack, though not life-threatening, are very real. Don’t suggest that what they are experiencing is “no big deal” or “not serious.” Instead, choose words that affirm their suffering and encourage them to get through it. Use phrases like, “You’re doing great,” “I’m right here with you,” “You can do this,” “I’m so proud of you,” or “I know you’re scared right now, but I will keep you safe.”
- Offer physical support (if they want it). Rub the person’s back or hold their hand to reassure him that you are with him, if he responds well to that support. Respect any requests to stop touching immediately.
If you are with someone and do not know if their symptoms are the result of a panic or anxiety attack, do not hesitate to call 911. Because many of the symptoms are consistent with those of a heart attack, it is important to rule out this possibility if you are not sure of the true cause of the attack.
If you wrestle with anxiety or panic, there is help to get your life back. Professional counseling can help you develop strategies to manage your panic, and even help identify the source and assist you as you begin to heal altogether.