Holding someone during a panic attack (Tips)

Holding someone during a panic attack

In this guide, we will discuss if holding someone during a panic attack is considered an effective way of helping or if on the contrary, could have a negative effect.

Also we will talk about how you could recognize the signs and symptoms of a panic attack and some tips about what you could do and things to avoid.

Holding someone during a panic attack

Holding someone during a panic attack could be manifested through holding their hand or putting your hand on their shoulder to signal you are there for them, you support them and without telling them, you are reassuring them you will remain until the panic attack is over.

However, consider how not everyone experiences panic attacks the same way so probably physical contact for some people is not really a good idea.  

Holding someone during a panic attack (Tips)
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[ Panic attacks (Know the signs) ] video

Imagine you are with your loved one, they start having a panic attack and it is the first or second time you witness one.

In your attempt to help you hug them, and they react to it aggressively, due to the intense fear they are feeling at the moment.

Any sudden moves or things they are not really expecting will increase their anxiety and make things worse.

Probably if you have asked before if you could hug them, then they would have told you whether it is allowed or not. 

Watching someone you love or care about go through a panic attack can be quite scary and you may not even know how to react.

When physical symptoms take over, people often fear they will lose control, go crazy or die.

In addition, panic attacks tend to happen suddenly, without any evident cause or warning and since they can happen at any place, any time, people may try to help by jumping into the situation without even knowing what to do or say. 

Signs and symptoms of a panic attack

Here is a list of symptoms that can help you understand and identify what a panic attack looks like, but remember not everyone experiences all of them at once (WebMD):

  • Racing heart
  • Ringing ears
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and fingers
  • Feeling sweaty or chilled
  • Feeling weak
  • Feeling nauseated
  • Feeling out of control
  • Chest constriction and pain
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Feeling a sense of impending doom or death

After knowing and understanding how a panic attack could potentially look like, then we can focus our effort in identifying and mentioning some tips on how to help someone during a panic attack. 

Holding someone during a panic attack (Tips)

Things you could do…

First, it is very important to remain calm and do not overreact or panic.

This will only make your girlfriend feel more anxious and even embarrassed by having a panic attack in the first place.

In addition, just avoid running away, stick around and assure her everything will be OK, you are not going anywhere.

In addition, it is helpful to better understand what a panic attack is, how long usually lasts, signs and symptoms, etc.

Also, avoid making comments minimizing the situation or making her feel as if it is not important because for her it is not meaningless.

Do your best by making statements that reflect you understand but it is important to remain positive and encouraging.

You could try distracting them (if you really know the person) with funny stories they may be familiar with. 

Holding someone during a panic attack (Tips)

It can also be a good idea, to remind them about deep breathing. It is useful if you help her synchronize your breathing pattern with her, so she can slowly feel better.

Use soft and calming voice to validate what she is feeling, be willing to just listen.

You could remind them they are not obligated to stay where they are and offer them a ride home if necessary.

Also, you could assure them there is nothing to be afraid of reminding them they are completely safe and you will do what you can to help them go through it.

Ask them what they need instead of assuming.

Gently ask them if you can get them something such as a glass of water, their medicine (if they are being medicated), something to eat, etc.

Moreover, try to use some of the following statements if you don’t really know what to say (HealthLinkBC): 

“You can get through this.”

“I am proud of you. Good job.”

“Tell me what you need now.”

“Concentrate on your breathing. Stay in the present.”

“It’s not the place that is bothering you; it’s the thought.”

“What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous.”

If your loved one seems very upset and overwhelmed after having the panic attack, if possible and pertinent, suggest the importance of getting help from a trained professional but let them proceed at their own pace. 

Things to avoid…  

Avoid telling them to calm down, it will have the opposite effect and make them more aware and self-conscious of their symptoms.

Instead, try some grounding exercises or deep breathing techniques to help. Another frustrating statement is “You have nothing to be nervous about” and they may know that already.

Even if there is no real danger, they still may not be able to avoid feeling frightened and worried that something bad may happen to them.

In addition, it is very important, to avoid minimizing or blaming them in this situation. It may not seem rational to you but for your loved one it does feel very real and scary.

In addition, avoid making judgemental statements such as “this is your fault” or “what you feel is not even real”.

Another typical statement is “You are just overreacting” which is very discouraging for someone having a panic attack, making it even more difficult to deal with it and calm down.

Holding someone during a panic attack (Tips)

Therefore, being critical about the situation using statements as “Don’t worry, it is all in your head” will also have a negative effect, and she will feel misunderstood and have the feeling she can’t actually count on you.

Also, avoid making her a bunch of complicated questions in the middle of the panic attack, this will only make things worse. 

After a while, you may even help them identify what causes her attacks but do not participate in helping them to avoid the situation since this will be detrimental and may cause even more attacks.

Having a willingness to help does not mean fighting their battles, but making sure they know they are not alone.

Why is this blog about holding someone during a panic attack important?

As discussed, holding someone during a panic attack, hugging, or any type of physical contact needs to be considered before doing it.

Not everyone experiences panic attacks the same way so what can help someone may not help another. 

We have mentioned how just being there, reassuring you will stay until they feel better, making an effort understanding them or even asking if there is anything you could do to make them feel better or safer, are some of the useful tips that we have mentioned to help someone go through a panic attack. 

In addition, if you notice how overwhelmed they are with their panic attacks and their strategies are not being effective to cope with it, then suggest them to seek professional advice but let them go at their own pace without obligating or forcing them. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about holding someone during a panic attack

What should you not do when someone is having a panic attack?

When someone is having a panic attack we should avoid saying things like “Calm down” or relax”.

Also, getting upset or angry at them for having a panic attack or running away from them without saying anything.

In addition, being rude, judgmental, critical or lacking empathy can actually have a very negative effect on the sufferer, especially if it is someone we care about.

How do you calm someone having a panic attack?

To help someone calm down when having a panic attack the first thing we need to remember is not to panic, stay with them and try to keep calm.

Then you could try to get their medicine for them if they are being medicated and usually take it during the attack.

Also, it is important not to make assumptions about what they need, just ask speaking to them in short and not overly complicated sentences.

Remember to help them breathe, you can count slowly to 10 and suggest breathing like you are doing it (slowly and deeply).

Does hugging help anxiety attacks?

For some people, hugging helps during anxiety attacks but for others, it could be actually worse.

Always ask the person before engaging in physical contact, especially if you do not know them that well.

However, it has been suggested that hugging helps to reduce stress and lower the risk of anxiety and depression but always taking into consideration everyone reacts differently.

How can you tell if someone is faking a panic attack?

You may know if someone is faking a panic attack because of the symptoms.

For instance, a racing or pounding heartbeat, faster breathing rate, chest pain, dizziness/light headedness, feeling nauseous, having a tingling sensation in their face or extremities, shaking/trembling and feeling out of breath. 

When should you go to the ER for a panic attack?

If you have never had a panic attack and you suddenly experience one then you may rush into ER to get urgent medical attention.

Even if you think you are having a panic attack or that you are dying, it is not really going to happen. 

Recommended reading

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Anxiety: A Skills Guide to Manage Your Emotions, Overcoming Anxiety, Panic Attack, and Worry
  • Anxiety: Panicking About Panic
  • Panic Attacks: Stop Panic Attacks and Overcome Anxiety. Take Back Control of Your Life
  • Anxiety Workbook: Stop Worrying And Regain Control Of Your Life. Learn How To Manage And Overcome Panic Attacks, Phobias, Social Anxiety And Depression
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: CBT Beginners Guide to Managing Depression and Anxiety, Overcoming Panic Attacks and Stress with Simple Strategies. Rewire Your Brain and Reach Happiness Now

References

Jain, S. (2018, Apr.) How to Help Someone During a Panic Attack. Retrieved from WebMD.

Raypole, C. (2020, Apr.) How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack. Retrieved from Healthline.com.

Healthlinkbc.ca, “Helping Someone During a Panic Attack”.

Star, K. (2020, Mar.) 4 Things to Not Say During a Panic Attack. Retrieved from Verywellmind.com.

Tinari, G. (2014, Jun.) How to Handle Someone Else’s Anxiety or Panic Attacks. Retrieved from Medium.com.

Sedghi, A. (2019, Mar.) Seven Ways to help someone through a panic attack. Retrieved from Theguardian.com.

Holding someone during a panic attack (Tips)

Daniela Paez

Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.