Have you ever stood helplessly by while someone you love experienced a panic attack? These tips will help you respond in a way that will actually help and assure the one who suffers.thatthat
What Was Happening to Our Daughter?
“Mom,” my daughter’s whispered words quavered, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel like I’m going to die.”
Her words jerked me out of a sound sleep. I scrambled out of bed and put my arm around her and lead her back to her bedroom.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I can’t explain it,” she said. “My heart keeps pounding and I can’t get thoughts out of my head. I feel like something horrible will happen at any moment. I can’t breathe.”
Logical, upbeat me didn’t know what to say or do. I felt helpless, unable to respond to this new parenting crisis. So I offered to sit by her bed and pray for her while I rubbed her back. Eventually, she fell asleep. I stumbled back to bed with one new worry on my plate. I vaguely remember hearing someone mention having a panic attack, and I wondered if our tween daughter had just experienced one.
Surely not, I reasoned. She had a wonderful life, two healthy parents who loved her, a nice home, friends, and did well in school without trying. What could she feel anxious about?
In retrospect, I failed my daughter. I didn’t do more to understand anxiety disorders and panic attacks. If only I would have paid more attention to her or sent her to counseling. But I didn’t.
I come from a background and era where we avoided coffee, tea, alcohol, loud music, and psychiatrists. Over a decade later, I understand how my ignorance and attitudes prevented our daughter from finding help sooner.
What IS a Panic Attack?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a panic attack,
“is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.”Mayo Clinic
In other words, a person experiencing a panic attack feels horrible. They don’t fake their horror, confusion, and pain. Their bodies have an automatic, DEFCON 1-level response to a perceived threat. And this response can happen in a person’s sleep—jerking them awake and paralyzing them with fear at the same time.
Some of the symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pounding heart
- Sweating, chills, or hot flashes
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling as if you can’t swallow
- Nausea or abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling as if you’ll pass out
- Feelings or detachment or unreality
- Fear of death or a loss of control
- A sense of foreboding or danger
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
A panic attack can strike out of the blue—even when someone appears calm and in no danger. People can’t control when they have a panic attack. But the fear of experiencing a panic attack can isolate those who suffer. They may limit their activities out of worry they’ll experience a panic attack in a public place or situation.
Are Panic Attacks the Same as Anxiety Attacks?
Even though a panic attack and an anxiety attack share many of the same symptoms, they aren’t the same. According to Medical News Today, a panic attack comes on suddenly without a trigger, while an anxiety attack starts with a triggering event.
The severity of the symptoms and feelings also differs. People experiencing a panic attack feel the symptoms intensely, while a person having an anxiety attack may experience the symptoms on a scale from mild to intense.
In addition, anxiety attacks and their symptoms may build up over time. Panic attacks, on the other hand, happen suddenly and usually subside within ten minutes.
Those experiencing an anxiety attack can feel any of the symptoms of a panic attack as well as any of these symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of concentration
- Easily startled
- Muscle pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Worry and distress
Remember, anxiety attack symptoms come on slowly and can present as mild symptoms rather than intense symptoms.
If you think you suffer from anxiety or may be experiencing an anxiety attack, seek medical help to rule out any physical causes (heart disease, a thyroid problem, sleep apnea, etc.). Next, find a psychiatrist or therapist to help you understand your triggers and how to work through future anxiety attacks.
How Can I Help Someone Experiencing a Panic Attack?
It turns out I did one or two things right when trying to help my daughter through her panic attacks. I stayed with her, and I rubbed her back. But I could have done so much more. HealthLinkBC suggests in addition to staying with someone and doing something to help ground them (for me, rubbing my daughter’s back), one should:
- Remain calm.
- Ask if the person takes medication and help them take it if they do.
- Speak to the person in short, simple sentences.
- Avoid unpredictable movements or surprises.
- Offer to breathe with the person to help slow their breathing.
- Ask if the person would like you to pray for them. Just remember to keep your prayer simple and ask for God’s comfort. Don’t turn it into a prayer begging to increase the person’s faith or a treatise on overcoming the evil one.
After the panic attack has passed, consider some of these actions. If you are a person of faith, pray for God’s guidance and don’t just jump in with advice.
1. Offer Kind Words
Ask, “Have you ever considered seeing a therapist to help you with your panic attacks? I’d be happy to go along with you if you need mortal support.” Assure the person experiencing panic attacks of their sanity. Having panic attacks doesn’t make a person crazy. It means they need help to learn coping techniques and safe people they can talk to.
2. Commit to Praying for Them and With Them
Scientists are currently studying whether or not intercessory prayer provides healing results. As a person of faith, I never underestimate the power of prayer—but I don’t want to push my beliefs on others. If they’d like to have a prayer partner, share your willingness to bet there for them.
3. What to Avoid
Don’t ask, “What’s wrong with you? You have a nice home and a great family” or, “So and so has it worse than you do, and he or she never seems anxious.” Only God knows how people are knit together. Guilting someone does not reduce panic attacks. In fact, the person experiencing them probably has those thoughts already and you adding to their burden won’t help them.
4. Stay Non-judgmental
Personal faith in God does not provide immunity from anxiety or panic—it CAN make it easier to overcome the symptoms with the help of therapy and medicine. Never assume anxiety or panic prove a person has weak faith.
Does the Bible lie or contradict itself? No. That verse in Proverbs simply says that anxiety weighs down a heart, and kind words can cheer someone up. Sometimes, those kind words need to come from a professional who knows how to guide a person through the emotional minefields that comprise the knots of heavy anxiety that produce panic attacks.
5. If Your Child Suffers from Panic Attacks
I recently read a book I wish would have been available 15 years ago. If you have a child who suffers from panic attacks, buy Brave: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Beating Worry and Anxiety for your daughter and Raising Worry-Free Girls: Helping Your Daughter Feel Braver, Stronger, and Smarter in an Anxious World for you. These books will equip you and your daughter to understand panic attacks, their sources, and when to get professional help.
The Best Way to Help Someone Experiencing a Panic Attack
The best way to help someone who experiences panic attacks involves staying calm, non-judgmental, and supportive. We don’t blame someone when they experience an allergic reaction, likewise, we shouldn’t blame someone for experiencing an emotional reaction.
Sometimes, the cause of panic attacks can have a physiological basis (heart problems, thyroid problems, hypoglycemia, caffeine or illegal stimulant use). Other times, stressful events can bring on periods of intense anxiety which produce panic attacks.
If you or someone you love suffers from panic attacks, take the right kind of action today.How do you help someone having a panic attack? #panicattack #mentalhealth #StoptheStigma Click To Tweet