Panic attacks may make a person feel as if they are dying or drowning. There are ways for onlookers and suffers to stop panic attacks, both before they start and at their peak.
Many panic attack suffers will attest that during the onslaught they feel like they are either drowning or dying. Sweaty palms, blurred vision, increased heart rate and inability to breathe are only some of the symptoms of panic attacks. Whether you are a frequent sufferer or have a loved one who has a panic disorder, it is important to know how to stop a panic attack.
For On-Lookers - How You Can Help
You don’t have to stand by, feeling helpless as you watch someone have a panic attack. There are many ways you can help end the overwhelming feelings. If you are close to and comfortable with the person, take their hand in yours and place it over your heart. Hold their hand there so they can feel your heartbeat. Take deep slow breaths and instruct the person having a panic attack to breathe with you. Feeling and hearing how calm you are will cause their body to emulate the reaction. Their heartbeat will slow to yours and they will focus on matching their breaths to yours as well.
If the person is a friend or family member, you may know if they are being treated for a panic and/or anxiety disorder. Ask where their medications are. Many people are prescribed to benzodiazepines. If they have a prescription or are prescribed to any other anti-anxiety medication, get it into their system (as long as it does not contradict doctor’s recommendations).
You can also play the color game with the person in the middle of a panic attack. Randomly tell the person to name five things that are purple (or orange, green, blue, etc.). The first three things will come easily but the task will get the better of the panic attack. As the person’s focus moves from the thoughts and feelings surrounding the panic attack to answer the question, their breathing, vision and heart rate will gradually return to normal. If you don’t feel five things are enough, ask the person to name ten.
If you can do nothing else, ask the person if they know what caused the panic attack. Sometimes they will; sometimes they won’t. Many phobias can cause panic attacks and those sorts of triggers can be easily identified. If the person is claustrophobic, open the windows and make the room seem as open as possible. If the person is afraid of social situations and you’re at a bar, take them to the bathroom. If either of you can identify the cause of panic, try to eliminate it.
When You Have a Panic Attack
Do you know you’re triggers? If you do, try to avoid them or work through them in therapy. Whether you can decipher the cause of your panic attack or not, try to pay attention to the way your body starts to feel before panic attacks. Do your palms get sweaty? Can you feel your heart rate increase minutes before the full-fledged panic attack? If you can catch it that early, pay attention to your surroundings. Whether you’re at the mall, the movies, or at home with family and friends, look around. People should be smiling and relaxed (unless your panic attack was caused by an argument). Try to convince yourself that everything is ok and that everything will be ok. Talking yourself down from panic in the very early stages of a panic attack has a high-percentage success rate.
Although it is not easy in the midst of a panic attack, try to remember to take deep, slow breaths. Even though the task may seem impossible at first, forcing yourself to slow your breathing will also help slow your heart rate and return your thoughts to everyday nothings.
As a preemptive strike, if you are prescribed to an anti-anxiety medication daily, take it. Anti-anxiety medications, like the benzodiazepines are designed to keep anxiety low throughout the day. If you miss a day or two, especially if you are taking higher doses, not only will you be more prone to panic attacks but you may also suffer withdraw. The symptoms of withdraw, including anger, shakes and nausea, may induce a panic attack on their own.