What to do in case of a panic attack 

7 February 2024by Oqea Cares0

Two in five people experience at least one panic attack in their life. Panic attacks can be frightening for both the person experiencing them and their loved ones. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how to provide the best support to someone who is experiencing a panic attack. [1]

In this article we explainhow to identify a panic attack, and what to do if someone you know experiences a panic attack. 

The 5th edition of Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM-5) gives the ultimate checklist. According to the DSM-5, FOUR of the following thirteen conditions must be met to classify a certain reaction as a panic attack. This is a simple a well-researched guideline.  

Is it a panic attack? A checklist. 

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). 

‍How can you help someone having a Panic Attack? 

1.    Keep your cool 

If you reciprocate their fear, you can add stress to an already challenging situation. Also, remember that a panic attack is a “fight-or-flight” response. According to Sadie Bingham, a clinical social worker who specialises in anxiety, this stress affects their ability to “to think and behave logically”[2]. Keep a level head. If they criticise your effort to help them, don’t take it too personally. 

2.    Focus on taking action 

Connect your statements to action. Ask how you can help them. For example, ask if it would make them more comfortable to sit down, lie down, or change location. By making your words more actionable, they can stay in touch with your behaviour. We mean well when we repeat remarks such as “don’t worry”. Yet if they continue to panic, they may feel alone, distant from your logical words, and isolated from reality. 

3.    Keep them “grounded” 

“Grounding” is a coping technique for those who suffer from disorders such as PTSD. Grounding is easy to understand. A person becomes grounded as simple “physical sensations” refocus them “from the stressor to the present”[3]. To one in panic, ask if you can hold their hand, or give them a textured object to feel. Encourage them to stretch or move.   

 

[1] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/media/statistics 

[2] https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-someone-having-a-panic-attack#stay-calm 

[3] Raypole,C. (2019). Grounding Techniques to Quiet Distressing Thoughts. Healthline 

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