Watching someone you love have a panic attack can be frightening, and watching your child have a panic attack can be especially terrifying but there are steps you can take to support them through it.
Nobody wants to see their loved ones suffer, and panic attacks can be especially hard to deal with because the cause of the attack may not be obvious to you, or it may not seem like something serious enough to trigger such an intense reaction. It can be difficult to help or reassure someone when you don’t know or don’t understand what they’re reacting to. But panic attacks are not uncommon – they can occur because of:
- Mental illnesses such as panic disorder, PTSD, or anxiety;
- Certain physical medical problems;
- Or just because the person is under great stress at the time.
Providing Support Through Panic Attacks
If your child or another loved one experiences a panic attack, it’s important to know how to support them through it and after the experience. Take a look at some things to know about supporting a loved one through a panic attack.
1. Maintain Your Own Composure
The first thing that you need to know about supporting a loved one through a panic attack is that you need to keep your own cool while it’s happening. If you panic, you’re liable to add to the distress that the person who’s having the panic attack is experiencing.
On the other hand, if you can stay calm throughout the attack, you’ll be modeling low-key behavior that can help your loved one to ground themselves and find their own way back to being calm. That doesn’t mean that you need to be unemotional or cold – you can be caring and loving; just keep your own feelings of fear and distress in check.
Panic attacks are upsetting to watch but not usually dangerous on their own. Panic attacks can make the person experiencing them feel like they’re dying or having a heart attack, but they don’t create any actual risk of dying.
2. Stay With Them
After staying calm yourself, the most important thing you can do for the person having a panic attack is to stay close by them. Don’t leave the room and let them suffer through it alone. Your presence can not only have a calming effect, but it can also be reassuring.
Most panic attacks don’t last that long – between ten minutes and half an hour is the norm. Do what you can to make sure that the person having a panic attack knows that you’re with them and that you won’t leave them until they’re feeling better.
Sometimes you can help bring a person out of a panic attack by talking to them calmly. Ask them questions about what they’re experiencing, what they’re afraid will happen, and what is actually happening. Keep your voice and questions neutral – it won’t help to insinuate that their fears are overblown or exaggerated.
The panic they’re experiencing is very real, which means that whatever triggered it is also real and serious to them. The objective is to help the person having the panic attack take a step back and see the situation for what it is – not dangerous – rather than to embarrass them for having the reaction in the first place.
3. Encourage Them to Breathe
People experiencing a panic attack often experience irregularities in their breathing. They may hyperventilate, breathing too quickly and too shallowly. They might also breathe too slowly and deeply. Or their breathing patterns might alternate between fast and slow, deep and shallow. Inconsistent breathing only feeds the anxiety, making the panic more intense.
You can help by acting as a breathing coach. Encourage them to breathe in and out through their nose, nose, not their mouth, in a normal rhythm. Coach them by demonstrating regular, even breaths yourself. Regulating breathing won’t end a panic attack instantly. However, it will help the person having a panic attack calm down and ground themselves.
Should You Seek Medical Attention?
Although panic attacks themselves are not dangerous, they share some symptoms with other conditions that are serious, like heart attacks. If the person is having chest pain, or if there’s any other reason to suspect that they might be experiencing a medical emergency instead of a panic attack, it’s worth taking a trip to the emergency room just to be on the safe side.
Otherwise, there’s usually no reason for a panic attack to require emergency medical intervention. However, the person having a panic attack should consider seeing a doctor, therapist, or counselor who deals with mental health issues, especially if the panic attacks are a regular occurrence.
It’s possible that a person might have a one-time panic attack in a moment of great stress and then never have one again, of course, but a person who has panic attacks regularly may be suffering from a mental health disorder that could benefit from treatment. For example, a person who has panic attacks due to PTSD could benefit from therapy to address the PTSD, which could then reduce the number of panic attacks.
Treatments for Panic Attacks
In acute situations – if you bring a person who is actively having a panic attack to the emergency room, for example – they may be given a sedative to help them calm down. There most likely will be tests to rule out a physical cause for the panic attack as well.
Otherwise, the treatment for panic attacks will depend on the underlying cause.
- In some cases, people who have panic attacks can use exposure therapy – confronting the cause of their panic under controlled circumstances and learning how to manage their feelings without panicking.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy is another type of therapy that focuses on teaching different ways of thinking to help lessen panic and avoid attacks.
- Depending on the person, anti-anxiety medications may be used as part of treating a disorder that causes panic attacks.
Although panic attacks are upsetting and may be confusing if you’re not familiar with them, you can help your child or someone you love through them. You can do this mostly by remaining calm yourself and offering your support and strength.
Answers to Common Questions About Panic Attacks
What Are Panic Attacks?
These are terrifying experiences when a person feels a sudden and immense fear or anxiety, leading to a variety of physical symptoms that can make the person feel as though they are suffering or dying.
What Should You Do If a Loved One is Having an Attack?
If your child or loved one is having a panic attack, it’s essential to provide support to them. There are different techniques mentioned above to help support your loved ones suffering from an attack.
Can They be Treated?
Yes, anxiety and panic disorders that lead to attacks can be treated based on the underlying cause. Contact us today for more information on treating a panic attack.