Notice that I say “be there for someone” and not “help someone”.
A lot of times when you see someone you love going through a panic attack the need to rush in and help them or save them can be overwhelming. When in all actuality “helping” them may not always be helpful.
Here is a few ways to be there for someone going through a panic attack:
• Make sure they know you are there for them.
Sounds redundant I know, but it is really important. Hearing it verbalized from a familiar voice or from someone they love can keep them grounded when they can feel as if they are spinning out of control.
• Don’t overcrowd them.
I know the desire to scoop them up and hold them can be hard to resist, but during a panic attack they could be experiencing shortness of breath, a bit of claustrophobia, or they could be hyperventilating. Any tight embraces could cause more fear and panic than intended. Make sure they are okay with physical contact first.
Instead you could offer to get them a drink of water, or offer to hold their hand, or if they are up for it to go outside and get some fresh air.
• Let them know that everything is going to be okay.
When going through a panic attack it can often feel like the world is caving in on you. Small problems can seem colossal and never-ending. We may not always want to hear that “everything is going to be okay”, but we need to hear it none the less.
Some things that are not the most helpful:
• Trying to get them to calm down sooner than they are ready.
Constantly telling someone to breath, relax, and calm down while they are having a panic attack can do more harm than good; even with the best intentions.
Now there is the added pressure of getting better for your benefit and not theirs. They don’t want you to worry, but that will make them worry more.
• Make any overly concerned faces.
This one seems like a no brainer, but it is probably the easiest one to forget. There is concern there for the person that you love, but usually those with anxiety can be pretty insecure and sometimes your look of concern can make them feel more ridiculed than cared for.
I suggest to talk to them in a calm and soothing voice that denotes concern without wearing it too much on your face.
• Give them space
Unless they specifically ask you to give them space then do not leave them alone. Giving them space can seem like the right idea, but it can make the one you love feel abandon or like you don’t want to be bothered with their “issues” and long term it could trigger depression or even resentment.
Those who suffer from panic attacks:
It may seem very often that no one understands what you are going through. It can feel isolating, but if you are one of the lucky ones that has someone there for you that is willing to try then let them try. We often push them away because we think they will never understand. We have to be willing to allow them close enough and allow ourselves to be vulnerable so the ones we love can understand. Remember that it is not easy for them either. With love, communication, and a whole lot of patience we can get through this together.
We all deserve to be happy!