4 ways to help someone having an anxiety attack

Anxiety attacks can be terrifying and possibly life threatening, so it's useful to know how to help someone who is having one. These attacks, also called panic attacks, can occur without warning or can be triggered by some environmental cause. No matter what the cause, it's important that you remain calm and ready to call an ambulance if necessary .

4 ways to help someone having an anxiety attack

1. Learn the symptoms of an attack

  • Knowing how to spot an anxiety attack is the first step to being able to help someone.
  • People undergoing a panic attack may be hyperventilating and feeling lightheaded.
  • Their heart may be racing, they may experience chest pain, and they may be convinced that they're going to die.
  • Trembling, sweating, tingling, headaches, stomach cramps and hot or cold flashes are also symptoms of an attack.
  • Someone undergoing a panic attack may not have all of these symptoms, but it's likely they'll experience at least three or more of them.

2. Ask if this is the person's first anxiety attack

  • If this episode is a first panic attack, a medical professional should be called immediately.
  • Panic attacks often feel like heart attacks, so calling an ambulance, even if it is a false alarm, is a good first step.
  • People with asthma who experience an anxiety attack are at risk for serious medical complications. If they can't quickly restore their breathing, they could die.
  • Diabetics can also experience panic attack complications, so call a medical professional immediately if you suspect any of these diseases is a factor.

3. Stay calm and move to a quiet location

  • Once you're certain that someone's having an anxiety attack, it's important to remain calm.
  • Panicked people and busy spaces can often make an anxiety attack worse.
  • Try to guide the person having the attack to a quiet space.
  • If a crowd has developed, encourage them to return to their own tasks.
  • Now is also the time to ask if that person has anxiety medication to help with an attack.
  • Ativan, Xanax and Klonopin are all commonly prescribed to provide immediate treatment during a panic attack.
  • If the person is taking medication, help find the correct dosage and get a glass of water if necessary.

4. Practice breathing and talk slowly

  • People experiencing an anxiety attack may be breathing rapidly and have difficulty focusing.
  • To help, ask if you can breathe with them, and then set a pace of slow and steady breaths.
  • Some people prefer slowly counting to 10 instead of breathing.
  • Keep in mind that a panic attack can last for five to 20 minutes, so it may take some time before the person shows signs of improvement.
  • While breathing, you can also interject encouraging statements.
  • Remind the person that they will overcome this moment.
  • Acknowledge their fear, but also remind them that they are safe with you.
  • Never minimize their fear; it could make the attack worse.
  • You can also ask if there's anything that you can do to help them.
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