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How to Help a Loved One Float through a Panic Attack

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Written by M. Tatum   

Panic attacks are extremely distressing to people suffering from anxiety disorders. More than simply a few butterflies in the stomach, a panic attack can bring on intense feelings of being about to faint, losing one's mind, or even being about to die. If someone you care about is suffering from panic attacks, here are some things you can do to help when one occurs.

Step 1

Know the signs that a panic attack is overcoming your loved one. Since not everyone experiences panic attacks in exactly the same way, ask your loved one what happens to him or her when an attack takes place. Your loved one may suddenly find it hard to focus on the surroundings, suddenly be unable to stand even everyday sounds, or may become unable to remain still. Knowing what to look for helps you prepare to respond in the most productive manner.

Step 2

Help your loved one to move away from anything that may be fuelling the panic attack. For example, if the stimulus is noise, assist your loved one to move to a quieter space. Since panic attacks often bring on feelings of unreality that are sometimes called derealization, your loved one may not be able to accomplish this alone.

Step 3

Hold your loved one's hand. Many people experiencing a panic attack feel suddenly disconnected from their surroundings. The physical connection will often help an individual to remain somewhat anchored while the attack runs its course.

Step 4

Be aware of any cognition strategies that your loved one uses to ride through a panic attack. These include mental exercises that emphasize embracing rather than fighting the attack, floating through the attack and finally reaching a state where the panic begins to weaken and finally subside. Other methods involve focusing on one sound or one object that is nearby, or repeating comforting phrases while gently thumping pressure points on the body. Train yourself to employ these strategies right along with your loved one, as this may also help the individual to remain connected to reality with greater ease.

Step 5

Remind your loved one that he or she has survived other panic attacks and you are there to help him or her through the current one. Your presence and your loving support can help your loved one to float through the experience, keeping an eye firmly on moving through the attack and begin to regain a measure of comfort.

Step 6

If the individual has prescription medication, assist him or her in taking a dose. There are several anti-anxiety medications that are formulated to help reduce anxiety within ten to fifteen minutes and thus help to cut off the "fuel supply" for a panic attack. Be careful to not exceed the recommended dosage.

Tips & Warnings

Some well-meaning people try to carry on a conversation with the person while he or she is going through a panic attack. While this type of distraction does sometimes work, it is not a universal approach. For some people, the discussion simply adds to the burden of the already overloading nerves and may cause another panic attack to begin gearing up even as the previous one is subsiding. Ask your loved one if talking to you does help, or if it seems to make things worse, then act accordingly. The body has wonderful natural mechanisms that will cut off the flow of excitatory chemicals before the panic attack can cause any permanent damage. However, be on the lookout for what is known as recurrent panic attacks. This is a situation where the individual experiences a series of attacks that follow one another so closely that it appears the person is dealing with a single prolonged attack. Don't assume you know what your loved one is going through. While everyone at one time or another experiences some degree of anxiety and panic, your loved one is going through a time when the nerves are overly-sensitized even to everyday sounds. That little bit of anxiety that had you sweating the last time you had to address a large group of people is nowhere near what a person with an anxiety disorder experiences. Keep that in mind as you attempt to be supportive.

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