How to Support a Person with Panic Attacks or Anxiety

PanicI came across this article by Helen Nieves and thought it would be useful to share her tips on how to help someone you know who is having panic attacks or suffering from anxiety.

What are Anxiety and Panic Attacks?

Anxiety is a part of life and normal to experience at some point or another. It’s a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. When you have an anxiety disorder, the anxiety becomes excessive where you have difficulty controlling it and interferes with daily life. The anxiety remains with you for months and can lead to phobias and fears which impact your life. Anxiety continues even after the stressor is gone. It is a fear that is accompanied by feelings of impending doom.

Common signs of anxiety are diarrhea, irritability, restlessness, headaches, sweating, upset stomach, muscle tension, anger, rapid heartbeat, and unable to concentrate, just to name a few. There are several anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, and agoraphobia. Anxiety disorder is very common.

A panic attack brings on sudden attacks of fear with no reason. It triggers physical reactions with no real danger or threat. It can happen with no warning and at any time. Symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes. A person usually fears that they will have another panic attack and often avoid situations where they may occur. Agoraphobias may develop because the person may be afraid to leave their home because nowhere seems safe.

Symptoms of panic attacks include feelings of impending doom, fear of losing control, trembling, hyperventilation, chest pain, headaches, tightness in your throat, trouble swallowing, hot flashes and sweating, just to name a few.

There are many types of treatment for anxiety and panic attacks. Finding the right professional to help you cope with these disorders is important. There are many medications a doctor can prescribe to you to help manage with the symptoms. There are also natural supplements, relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, group therapy, and support groups which can help reduce the symptoms.

Lifestyle changes such as stress management, exercising, removing stimulants and sugar from your diet, changing your perspective to situations, and changing your attitude from controlling things or the need to please others can also be of help to manage with anxiety or panic attacks.

1) Providing Support:

If you or someone you know takes care of a person who has panic or anxiety attacks, I would advise you to know as much as you can about the disorder. Ask the person with this disorder to share with you their thoughts and their feelings about the disorder during an attack and when they feel calm. The following is a list of tips that may be helpful in supporting a loved one or friend who suffers from these disorders:


2) Listen:

You should just listen and do not try to solve the attack. You cannot fix it or take the attack away.

3) Support:

Learn how to support your loved one or friend when they have an attack. Find out from them what will help and what they need you to do during an attack.

4) Organize activities:

Let the person organize activities that you can do together. If they set their own parameters, they may be more willing to try them.

5) Compromise:

Be open to adjustments that can help in making an outing successful and comfortable. Make adjustments for other similar activities that make the person uncomfortable such as taking stairs instead of an elevator.

6) Respect:

Never belittle or downplay the attack. This is a real disorder. Do not dismiss their attack or try to solve their problem though realization.

7) Understand:

When a person is going through an attack, rationality and listening is not what they are concentrating on. You have to understand that you cannot make the experience go away by trying to rationalize the situation to them.

8) Believe:

The worst thing you can do is to act as if they are lying an attack. This is not the case. Be there for them and let them know that although you do not understand what they are going through, you are there for them. Do not try to force them out of an attack because it could make the attack worse. Let the attack happen until their bodies relax on their own. If that doesn’t happen, get them to the nearest emergency room.

9) Professional care:

Never give someone suffering from anxiety or panic attack any type of prescription medication that has been prescribed to you. They may have other health conditions or may be taking medications that you may not be aware of that might have a negative effect on them. If you want to help, take them to see their physician or psychiatrist who will prescribe them with medications.

10) Acknowledge:

When a person suffering from an attack tells you that they want to move forward or try activities despite their attack, acknowledge it and support them in this success for trying. If they had a hard time with the activity due to an attack, support them and help them try again at another time when they feel ready.

11) Seek counseling:

It is important that you seek professional counselling because living or taking care of someone with any type of disorder is going to bring up your own emotions. You can also encourage the person with panic or anxiety attacks to seek counseling or to participate in a program such as group therapy, support groups, or gradual exposure therapy.

12) Be a friend:

Be gentle, encourage and provide comfort while helping them to focus on the task at hand. This is a specific role and make sure that you are able to provide them with this. Not everyone can provide them with the support, help, encouragement, and understanding that will help them with their attacks.

Can you imagine a life without panic?  If you or someone you know suffers from panic attacks or anxiety, then please get in touch to make an initial appointment. You can phone or text me on 07980 967 293 or email me here.

I offer a safe, confidential psychotherapy and counselling service in Levenshulme, Manchester. Together, we can work towards the panic free life you deserve.