Posted by: jude49 | May 6, 2013

Helping Those With Panic Attack Disorder

Hello All,

I recently wrote a post on what it feels like to have panic attack disorder.  In this post, I’m offering suggestions based on my personal experience with panic.  Hopefully, they will prove useful as you help someone move from panic to peace.

Panic attacks are scary.   I can remember how awkward and embarrassed I felt when I experienced them.  I felt like I was trying to control a body and a mind that wouldn’t obey me no matter how hard I tried.  I could also see the distress and fear of those who saw me experience panic attacks.  Although panic attacks often last a few minutes, they are emotionally and physically exhausting.  I offer the following guidelines:

  • Ask if they are having a panic attack and what they feel like.  Acknowledge feelings and offer  compassion.
  • Ask the person what they need.  Some need assurance that you won’t leave; some need a hug; some need to be alone with you, as supporter, in a nearby room/space; some like to listen to soothing music, etc.
  • Walk.  When panic strikes, one’s legs often feel weak.  Many times, I felt like I couldn’t even stand, never mind walk!  However, encouraging walking (let’s just walk to the next house and back) helps build confidence and eases the panic.  Walking outside is best.  Fresh air cools the “hot sensations” that often accompany a panic attack.
  • Engage in conversation about anything…a movie or book, a common interest.
  • Encourage breathing.  At times during a panic attack, I held my breath without realizing it.  Focusing on breathing in and out is calming.
  • Drink cold water or splash cold water on the face and arms calms anxiety.
  • Ask the person where they feel the most peaceful.  Have them visualize that place of peace.  Ask them to describe their places of peace to you.
  • Reassure them that this too will pass.
  • Engage in an activity together such as making cookies, singing, playing a game or in side-by-side activities such as knitting, scrap-booking.
  • Steer away from negative talk.  Often I would say I was dumb or stupid because I had panic attacks.  If that happens, reassure the person that it’s the anxiety talking.  It was comforting for me to hear that I was more than my anxiety.
  • Avoid labels.  Often individuals with panic attacks are labelled as high strung, nervous, anxious, crazy.  Individuals with panic attacks are usually intelligent, sensitive and creative.
  • Focus on the person’s strengths.  One of my friends told me I was one of the most resilient people she knew.  That thought comforted me many times and helped me endure the indignities of panic attacks.

Even though a panic attack usually just lasts a few minutes, the impact of it can last hours.  Often, I was fidgety, agitated, and found it difficult to listen or focus for any length of time.  As a supporter, recognize these symptoms, but keep modelling your sense of calm and assurance.  Your calmness DOES have a positive impact!

After the panic attack has worn off, many want to sleep.  Encourage that.  Tears often come during or after a panic attack.  It’s okay to cry (releasing feelings is a good thing).

Panic attacks can be relieved by mindfulness training, often without the use of medication.  Sometimes medication is needed.  But, never, never underestimate the support of good friends.  I am so thankful for many friends who saw  me through the terror of panic attacks.

Do any of the suggestions I’ve given above help you feel more at ease dealing with someone experiencing panic or anxiety?  Feedback appreciated!





  1. […] Helping Those With Panic Attack Disorder. […]

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