Helping Someone During a Panic Attack
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
I have had panic attacks in private and in public and both are scary because you don't always know when they are going to happen or when they will subside. The people around you don't always know what to do to support you through one. I haven't had a panic attack in quite awhile as I have worked with a therapist one on one, I've participated in group therapy and I have learned various techniques that help. I "did the work" as they say and I could not be prouder and happier with myself.
As I recall, the first panic attack I had as a young adult was when I was going through a depression and I found myself rocking myself back and forth on my bed to soothe myself through the panic attack. I didn't know what it was at that time and I couldn't stop the rocking and I couldn't stop the crying.
That was a real turning point in my life that my feelings were deeper than just being sad, upset or overwhelmed. I was literally frozen and stuck in a zone rocking myself back and forth until I basically "came down" from this panic attack.
I was living in my own apartment in Florida at the time and luckily, my parents were nearby and came to help. They gently spoke to me telling me I was going to be alright, to breathe, held my hand and helped calmed me. I was so mad at myself for letting them see me look like this.
There is a lot of shame too with having mental disorders and mental health and I'd like to say (pardon my French.....) FUCK IT.
LET'S WORK ON OURSELVES.
LET US NOT BE SELF CONSCIOUS OR EMBARRASSED.
LET US NOT BE SCARED OR ASHAMED TO ASK FOR HELP.
EVERYONE COULD USE THERAPY NO MATTER HOW HAPPY YOU ARE OR THINK YOU ARE.
THERAPY HELPS US HAVE BETTER CONNECTIONS WITH ONE ANOTHER.
Another time, I started not really going outside as much which was quite sad, because I lived in Florida at the time and missed so many beautiful days full of sunshine. I would just go in the backyard, ride my bike around the neighborhood, go to the local pool and that was pretty much it. After a few months, I went with my parents to Disney Springs which is a huge shopping and entertainment complex.
As we were walking through the crowds, I suddenly started hyperventilating and crying. It was the most embarrassing thing in the world to be a grown woman experiencing a panic attack like that in public. I was pushing through the crowd and looking for the nearest bathroom.
I finally found a bathroom and darted inside, rushed over to the sink at the end of the bathroom and kept splashing cold water on my face. My Mom found me inside the bathroom and I just told her to keep calm and that I was "fine". We ended up leaving and finding a quieter place to have dinner. I felt so stupid, embarrassed and upset that I ruined our beautiful evening together.
Another stand out public panic attack was during the pandemic and we had family come over as their kitchen was being remodeled ( due to mold ) so, we asked them to have dinner at our house. I was excited to see them but also anxiety ridden and beyond nervous since we still didn't know much about Covid, but we knew that masks were helping. I focused most of my energy on making the dinner (cooking & baking always relaxes me) but all I could focus on was that some family members were not wearing a mask and they were getting close to my parents when they were talking. Looking back now with the help of therapy, I would have communicated how I was feeling and that having a mask on would have helped.
I felt like I was the odd one out, trying to have a good time, be cool, be calm (especially in front of our littlest cutest family members) but worried the whole entire time. I went inside my room to gather myself since I was starting to sense a panic attack coming on - at that point though, our littlest cutest family members were looking for me and wanted to know why I was in my room. I just needed a minute to lay down, breathe and collect myself. Before, I knew it they had gone home. I felt so sad, mad at myself and just plain awful. Those few minutes, I didn't think anyone would notice I was in the middle of something, since there were other people around to visit with one another. At that time, I was still early in my therapy, and just starting to learn how to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. I was still not able to explain to my loved ones how to help me through a panic attack. I also didn't know how to ask for someone to advocate for me to explain what was going on at that moment.
Especially during Covid and this pandemic, I have not only been that way just around family, it affected me even when our neighbors or someone talking to my parents at the store would get too close to them.....or if we got an unexpected knock on our door, I would straight up PANIC. One day, I remember my mom and I decided to bring out folding chairs near the golf course to get fresh air. Suddenly, there was a woman walking towards us. Naturally, I figured she was walking past us towards her car or on her afternoon walk. But it didn't feel quite right, since we were sitting on the edge of a HUGE golf course and she had plenty of room to walk elsewhere. It was obvious we were social distancing.
She actually DID come up to us, VERY CLOSE and said, "It's okay, I don't have Covid, you can take your mask down." I was livid. What? Why? Huh? What gives someone the right to tell us what to do? We aren't hurting anyone sitting here, we aren't invading HER space (like she did to us) and we certainly are not as GROWN ASS ADULT WOMAN telling her what to do ("....you can put your mask down." Come again? I was literally about to tell Marge / Karen or whatever her name was to go (pardon my French) f*ck herself and we are quite aware of what we can do with our masks. Thank you very much.) I just said to her very matter of fact, "We are fine as we are enjoying ourselves. Please don't get any closer. I have anxiety." It was the first time I said it out loud to a stranger.
This stanger interrupting and coming right up to us, left me with a racing heart, mad and bewildered. Invading our space and enjoyment. And then, as my heart stopped racing, we laughed hysterically at the absurdity and stupidity of this woman. I gave myself grace, because after all we are living in a pandemic but SOME PEOPLE JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND BOUNDARIES .......pandemic or not.
Perhaps to some people I could even appear rude when in fact, I remove myself from situations that made me feel in danger, threatened or that a panic attack is about to come.
As I said in my previous blog post about being diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (read it HERE) , I was "Miss. Holistic" ever since I can remember. I didn't take pharmaceuticals and I ate healthy. I always knew that this was bigger than me to figure out on my own, especially since it was getting the better of me during a FREAKING PANDEMIC and in front of my family and strangers, so I knew I needed to DO THE WORK.
I worked on myself, like I never had before. With one on one therapy that (literally saved my life and I will talk about more in a future post) and with my amazing parents and brother's support.
I also finally decided to give Zoloft a try. I was never talked into taking anything but I spoke to other people who had been diagnosed with OCD, Anxiety Disorder & Panic Disorder and they had said it helped them so much. For me, and this is just me personally, I have not had any debilitating panic attacks since therapy and taking Zoloft.
Sure, every now and again, I feel a sense of panic, but I know how to deal with it much better now and my loved ones know how to help as well. For my own mental health, I don't engage in any conflict with others. If people cannot talk calmly and rationally, then I have no choice but to remove myself from these types of people and situations. Gaslighting (which I will discuss in a future blog post) is a big thing that I've read extensively about and discussed in therapy. I am aware of when it is happening now and I simply remove myself from people that are "gaslighters" whether it be walking out of the room, leaving or blocking them on my phone. Gaslighting can be a big trigger to a panic attack.
Now that you have a glimpse into my life, I hope that it helps you and you share this post with others. Below, you can educate yourself and learn how to help and support others during a panic attack.
Helping Someone During a Panic Attack
If someone you know has a panic attack, he or she may become very anxious and not think clearly. You can help the person by doing the following:
Stay with the person and keep calm.
Offer medicine if the person usually takes it during an attack.
Don't make assumptions about what the person needs. Ask.
Speak to the person in short, simple sentences.
Be predictable. Avoid surprises.
Help slow the person's breathing by breathing with him or her or by counting slowly to 10.
It is helpful when the person is experiencing a panic attack to say things such as:
"You can get through this."
"I'm proud of you. Good job."
Tell me what you need now."
Concentrate on your breathing. Stay in the present."
It's not the place that is bothering you; it's the thought."
"What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous."
By following these simple guidelines, you can:
Reduce the amount of stress in this very stressful situation.
Prevent the situation from getting worse.
Help put some control in a confusing situation.
You can offer ongoing help as the person tries to recover from panic disorder:
Allow the person to proceed in therapy at his or her own pace.
Be patient and praise all efforts toward recovery, even if the person is not meeting all of the goals.
Do not agree to help the person avoid things or situations that cause anxiety.
Do not panic when the person panics.
Remember that it is all right to be concerned and anxious yourself.
Accept the current situation, but know that it will not last forever.
Remember to take care of yourself.
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.