There’s nothing as scary as knowing you’ve lost control but not being able to stop it. Part of you is aware that you are far gone, but the rest of you doesn’t care.
Suddenly every body part has a mind of its own. Your hands tremble uncontrollably, your heart rate speeds, and your mouth is suddenly unable to form words. You try to ask for help in your head, but no one can hear you. All that manages to come out are sobs and labored breaths.
If you know someone who suffers from panic attacks, you have seen the negative effects it can have on their psyche. If the person you care about is consumed by their disorder, then they are most likely trying to cope with it at their own pace.
When you find yourself getting annoyed remember they’ve not chosen to deal with these attacks. More than likely their inability to accept the problem is preventing them from moving forward or ask for help. Often times you “helping” seems to exasperate the situation, so they try to deal with it alone. This makes the problem worse.
If you are wanting to help but fear you don’t know how these are some tried and true tips that I’ve found work well in the past:
1. Calm yourself down first and foremost. There is nothing quite as troubling to the person in panic as someone who is unsure or unstable themselves. You need to take the lead for them, and you can’t do that if you are freaking out about what to do.
2. Don’t show fear or uncertainty. You have to polish your acting skills if being calm in a crisis is not your forte. Keep a calm demeanor and a gentle expression on your face.
3. Be reassuring and welcoming. Their body is not their own anymore. The sympathetic nervous system is releasing stress hormones, and this individual will not be able to combat the effects on good merit alone. This can happen in very unideal situations, like a public place. Don’t focus on the logic, instead use your energy to help see them through it. No amount of reason will make it stop, but your actions will move the panic along faster.
4. Instead of asking, get up and do something. Take them to an open place to get fresh air into their tissues. Get them a glass of water for their dry throat. Hold their shaking hands, firm and steady. Guide them in taking complete breaths. In the least patronizing way, treat them like you would treat a young child.
5. Patience matters more than anything. It may take 2 minutes, or it may take 2 hours. No matter the commitment, be willing to see them through. If you can’t, step aside and let someone else take the lead, or just leave them alone. It isn’t recommended, but it is a hell of a lot better than making them feel worse.
6. Talk to them after its over. Once the panic has passed and the person recovered, urge them to analyze the situation. What do you think caused it? Was it helpful when I did this? When I tried this did it make you feel worse? Every person is different, so personalize the treatment. It’s not going to be easy, but hashing it out with a clear head can help you be ready for the next panic.
7. Encourage them to keep going. They may be ashamed or frightened by their disorder. Help them (and yourself) to view it as a puzzle. Work with the pieces you have, and try new things until everything fits. You will solve it if you stick together.