Whether you’ve experienced a panic attack for yourself or witnessed a friend going through one, you will know that they are not pleasant. But, they are something we can begin to control and learn from.
I have personally experienced two panic attacks in my time, which funnily enough I am grateful for having. Having experienced panic attacks myself, I can speak to you knowing what it feels like. I can give real advice and speak to my students with a better understanding of what they are going through.
I describe my panic attacks as being and feeling uncontrollable, which to me is difficult to say. When I was experiencing trouble breathing and the pins and needles in my hands and feet, I knew that taking deep breaths was what I needed to do to calm down and feel better. But, if you’ve had a panic attack before, you will know that slowing down your breathing and taking deep breaths is easier said than done…
How to help a friend who is having a panic attack
If you are with a friend who is having a panic attack, it is helpful to get them to sit down. Shifting their attention is the next step. A person having a panic attack is often either focused on what has given them the attack in the first place, or thinking about what they are experiencing at that time, whether it be trouble breathing, sick in the stomach, or a pins and needles feeling. So, it is helpful to talk to them in a calm and relaxed voice. Perhaps you hold their hand or rub their back, and assure them that you are here for them, they are safe, and to think about the feeling of your hands holding or your fingers on their back. This can be really helpful for them to shift their focus from the negative to something different. Asking questions at this stage might be tricky getting a response out of them, so continuing to talk to them in your calming voice asking them to shift their focus will help. For example, ‘feel my hands rubbing your back’, ‘feel my hand holding your hand’, ‘you’re doing such a good job, keep trying to take deeper breaths, well done’. Only after the person has calmed down may you start to have a discussion about what triggered it and what actions we can now put in place knowing that we are feeling this way.
How to help yourself when your having a panic attack
If you don’t have a friend or someone around you to help you calm down and ‘escape’ your panic attack, there is good news. You can get out of it yourself.
Prevention is better than a cure here, so noticing when your breathing starts to change or when the feeling of an attack is coming, that’s when it is best to start doing something about it. Who can you go and talk to? What music can you listen to that you know makes you feel better? Do you like to draw, drink tea, play games, use a Smiling Mind or Head Space app on your phone, or read and look at things online?
Just having something else to focus on shifts your attention from your anxious feelings to something positive that will make you feel better. That is why it is extremely beneficial to do something. No matter what it is, doing something is better than focusing on your attack. You can then observe it as it rolls in and over you like a wave.
It will pass…
I love to explain a panic attack as being like a wave. You sometimes can imagine it coming in before the feeling of it crashing into you. When you’re in the middle of things, you are under water struggling to breath. You’re trapped in the wave. But the most important thing to note here is, the wave will pass. The panic attack will pass, just like a wave. It will wash over you and you will watch it as is passes. The wave does not stay still, and you will not have these feelings forever.
Have you experienced a panic attack? I would love to hear about what you think of this post. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.