Not enough people know about anxiety or panic attacks, what the experience is like or how to help one. It is paramount that we increase the awareness of mental health as a whole, especially those that are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Too often, people are unaware of how to help someone when they are coping with a mental illness or attack.
So, what is a panic attack anyway? It is a sudden feeling of extreme or acute anxiety. Often physical symptoms occur, such as trembling, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, nausea and more. Not all of the symptoms are often experienced or obvious. However, if someone tells you they are having one, or that they need to get away from the situation you are in, it is important to react no matter how acute you perceive their situation to be.
Nights out, festivals or parties can be especially dangerous. A panic or anxiety attack may occur when the surrounding people are too drunk or too engaged with something else to help in the right way. Whilst no two panic attacks are the same, I will, nevertheless, endeavour to provide a guide on how to help someone when they are struck with an attack.
- Space is absolutely key. Do not crowd the person. If you are inside somewhere, take them outside. Even the outside area at a bar or club is better than the dance floor. At a festival or a gig, take them away from heavy crowds and let them sit down
- Help them to regulate their breathing. Tell them to breathe in, and hold it for 4 seconds. Then breathe out for 4. Then move up to 5. Do this all the way up to 10. This should help take away the focus from panicking and bring the focus back on breathing.
- Do not make them worry or feel useless about what they are panicking about. Anything could trigger them to make their panic attack happen. It is often hard to determine the trigger, but this shouldn’t be necessary in order to take them seriously.
- Comfort them. Tell them that everything is going to be okay. Making sure that they feel safe is extremely important. If you think it is okay to, give them a big hug or rub their shoulder.
- Put their focus elsewhere. Tell them a story, look at the sky with them, even play a game. Just take their attention off their panic, anyway you feel could be appropriate.
- Once they have calmed down, ask if they would like a hug. Take them somewhere quiet, maybe make them food, or watch their favourite TV show with them.
- Help them relax and unwind. I personally always feel very tense during and after a panic attack, so help them unwind and feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible. They will no doubt feel shaken by the experience.
- Do not make a big deal about it or make it about you. It could make them feel more panicked or even invalidated about their feelings. Focus on them.
Again, everyone experiences panic attacks differently. This may work for some but, if you know someone who suffers from panic or anxiety attacks, ask them how they would like you to help them and they will be glad to tell you. If you experience them yourself, do not be afraid to tell someone you are close to how to handle it.
In addition, I urge you to look after your friends when you’re out on the town. It is far too easy to be swept off into the night. A lack of awareness is always dangerous.