What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks are feelings of intense fear and worry that come on quickly, sometimes for no apparent reason, and don't appear to be proportionate to the true situation.
Panic attacks are generally brief, usually lasting under ten minutes, but some of the symptoms may persist longer.
They are certainly scary for the individual directly experiencing it, but also for those around who may not know what's going on.
How To Identify A Panic Attack
Remember that not everyone experiences panic attacks the same way, but here are some common symptoms:
Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
Tingling in the hands and fingers
Sense of terror, impending doom
Feeling sweaty or having chills
Feeling a loss of control
So What Should You Do?
1. Ask: How can I help?
Stay calm and ask how you can support them. Don't make assumptions about what your friend needs. They may not be able to provide you an answer in the moment, and that's ok.
2. Help them stay grounded
You can do this by using physical touch (with permission), encouraging them to stretch or move, talking calmly about familiar places/activities. This helps your friend focus on what's actually happening, instead of their fear of the attack.
3. Validate their distress
"This is really tough and I'm sorry for what you are experiencing. Let me know what I can do to support you." A statement like that may be all you need to provide empathy and understanding to your friend.
Avoid These Things
1. Comparing normal stress and fear to panic
Remember that your friend isn't just anxious. They are experiencing intense panic that may also make them feel helpless or out of control, and even physical pain.
2. Shaming or minimizing their attacks
You may not intend to make your friend feel bad, but denying the reality of their discomfort can certainly come off that way.
3. Giving advice
As counterproductive as it may seem, only provide advice if you're asked for suggestions. Not every coping technique works for everyone.
What is the first thing you should do when your friend is showing symptoms of a panic attack?
After a panic attack ends, your friend may feel exhausted and choose to retreat to a low-pressure, comfortable environment.
If your friend is willing, ask them about what typically helps them during an attack, and make a plan for the next time.
If your friend believes that their panic attacks are so frequent that they need intervention, there are ways to support them:
Assist in arranging a therapist or doctor's appointment.
Help them research options for peer support such as online support forums or in-person groups.
Provide a listening ear while they are navigating. The process can be complicated and overwhelming.
It's important to remember that while panic attacks are scary, you can help your friend combat them.