If you have anxiety, you may never have a panic attack, however there are of course some people who do suffer with anxiety which can also cause them to have panic attacks.
Panic attacks are horrible things to experience. I had helped people with panic attacks for years, yet I had never experienced one personally. Then, in 2019, my father died suddenly and unexpectedly, I was called out of the blue to his house and had to see my father dead when he had been alive and healthy moments before.
Even on the day he died, I began to have panic attacks, I recall struggling to breathe and feeling as though I was about to throw up and pass out simultaneously. However, as the days and weeks went by, this got worse for me, and I had multiple regular panic attacks. Times where I felt my heart race, my vision blur and unable to breathe became a regular thing and all of a sudden, I had a new found understanding and respect for panic attacks and the people who suffer regularly with them.
Thankfully, with time, therapy and lots of the tools I will share with you here, I no longer suffer with them and hopefully my experience led me to being able to help others far better than I had before.
Again, there is no one size fits all for this, but there are some powerful ways in which you can help yourself and others if you notice a panic attack occurring. These will be more helpful at different stages of the panic attack so use your discernment.
Get Some Space
When we notice someone starting to have a panic attack, we may at first think they are just upset or feeling a bit panicky and what we will then often do is put our arm around someone or we might crowd them, this is usually a trigger for the person to feel more stressed and likely to amplify the panic attack.
Instead of touching them, offer support for example asking if they feel wobbly, say do they need some help to sit down on a chair. Unless they're in physical danger, give them space.
One of the best tools is get them outside if you can, to give them that sense of space, if you cannot get them outside try and open a window, so that they can feel the fresh air and also look into the distance.
A panic attack is a build up of energy, if they're able to, if they're not too dizzy and they don't feel faint, get them to walk around. If they cannot walk around, help them to release some of the energy by shaking, it can really help to shake out the hands or legs or even stomp the feet.
You can offer words of reassurance but when having a panic attack, the brain has become overstimulated so it is helpful to try and create a calm and quiet environment, ask other people to step away, turn off music / tv if possible.
Focus upon the breath as soon as possible during a panic attack and try to encourage slower more controlled breaths in and out through the nose.
A common mistake when someone's having a panic attack, is to encourage them to take huge deep breaths, this can increase the stress so instead of that just focus on slowing the breathing down little by little.
If you are concerned about your own or someone else's anxiety or panic attacks, please seek some help today. Of course you can reach out to your GP but there are also other resources which can help such as:
•Anxiety UK – www.anxietyuk.org.uk
•No Panic – www.nopanic.org.uk
•OCD Action – www.ocdaction.org.uk
•Employee Assistance Programme - Does your employer have such a thing? If so, you are often able to receive some confidential telephone based counselling sessions.