I think a very important thing to understand and know about when someone you love or someone you care about suffers with a panic disorder or panic attacks is how to help calm them down and support them when anxiety gets the better of them. Here are some tips from my point of view as the sufferer on how you can help someone who is having a panic attack.
1. Recognise the moments leading up to a panic attack
If you know the person well enough and spend a lot of time with them, you are likely to recognise when they are feeling anxious and be able to tell that they are about to have a panic attack. If not, talk to them about their specific pattern of visual behaviors and emotions leading up to a panic attack and recognise them as soon as they start. Personally, I zone out and grab onto something, or usually someone, to make myself feel safe, so this is what someone who is with me would be looking out for. The sooner it is recognised, the easier it is to calm down from it. For the sufferer, it makes them feel better knowing that someone has recognised they need help too, and that they are not alone.
2. Take them away from it all
Panic attacks can happen anywhere, sometimes with triggers, sometimes not, and one of the most important things for anyone who has panic attacks is the need to feel safe. If the person you're with has a panic attack in a club, or in a shopping centre, or a confined area, take them out. Even if you just lead them from the bathroom to the living room of their house, it gives them a new surrounding that is not connected to where they first began to feel anxious, giving them a chance to use this environment to calm down in. Fresh air and space helps me enormously. Even just being able to see the sky makes me feel better. Wherever that person is when they start to panic, guide them out of there as quickly as possible, and reassure them that they're safe. Sometimes, quick breaks away from crowd in the club on a night out or breaks in a shopping day out is all I need to remind myself I can get out if I need to, so this is a good preventative measure too.
I personally am the worst breather ever when I panic. I forget what breathing is and how to do it, and i'm sure many other people who have had a panic attack knows what I mean. Like I spoke about in this post, I spend more time saying 'I can't breathe' than actually trying to breathe. Because of this, having someone with me telling me to breathe and even breathing with me to so I can focus on how I should be breathing is amazing. Anything tight on or around the chest can give the illusion that breathing is more difficult than it actually is and so, while maintaining dignity, remove any tight clothing that may help the person breathe better. I don't mean remove their top, or unbutton their shift fully, what I mean is like, for example, I had a panic attack on Halloween this year and my boyfriend removed my fancy dress wings from off my shoulders to help me breathe better. You can undo the top buttons of someones shirt, or remove a necklace if you think the person would be able to breathe better without. Once my breathing is stable, I already feel a lot better so the more you can help with this aspect, the better.
4. Make them feel safe
Safety is massive. During a panic attack, you are more out of control than you have ever been and so feeling safe is very very important. Reminding the person 'you're safe' or 'I won't let anyone hurt you' really helps along with physical contact like holding their hand or rubbing their back. For me, being brought close into someone in a hug and being wrapped up tight helps me, but others may find this even more distressing so make sure the person is comfortable with that first. Stay with them at all times. If someone is left alone, it will probably make them worse as their safety net is gone.
Imagine you were out of control of your own body and being made to feel like you're dying. Now imagine how you would like to be treated throughout a 20 minute episode of it. That's all you have to do. The main thing I must strongly advise is please do not panic yourself. I understand how having someone grabbing onto you saying 'I can't breathe' can be petrifying, but remember it is their body responding to fear or threat and you can help take that fear or threat away. Honestly, they will never forget what you did for them, and they will trust you a whole lot more. Talk to the individual about how they would like you to help them if the situation did arise because everyone is different. Be confident and show you care, and whatever you do do NOT use the words 'Calm down!' - if they could calm down, a panic attack never would have happened.
Love Luce xo