In this guide, we will discuss some tips on “how to ground someone having a panic attack” or how you can help someone to get through a panic attack.
How to ground someone having a panic attack
Here are some tips on how to ground someone having a panic attack or how you can get through a panic attack on your own and progressively calm down:
- Increase self-awareness of what triggers your anxiety, this way you can tackle it from a better angle and anticipate.
- Know when to act. If you feel the anxiety building up or you start manifesting the first symptoms you can actually find a “safe place” (e.g. an empty office, a bathroom cubicle, going for a walk, etc.) where you can manage the panic attack.
- Use grounding techniques that will bring you back to the present moment. You could try being aware of your surroundings and its details by describing or naming to yourself 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 that you can hear, 2 you can smell and 1 you can taste, this is actually called the 54321 method.
- Meditating and mindful breathing. Focus on your breathing, at first you will notice how fast it is and then while you implement breathing techniques it will progressively slow down.
- Counting. Try counting from 1 to 9 out of order and since it requires your attention and concentration it will help you distract your mind from the panic attack.
What is grounding and why it works?
The concept “grounding” was developed by Alexander Lowen and it is based on the interaction of the body and mind. The term grounding is related to the word “ground” which is literally defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “the solid surface of the earth”. Following this concept, Lowen proposes that we are “physically, emotionally and energetically grounded to the earth” where all energy seems to find a way back into the earth.
It makes sense then when people use the expression “having your feet on the ground”. Having your feet on the ground (literally speaking) is what Lowen considered making us feel grounded to the earth.
Moreover, as Dr. Sarah Allen suggests “Grounding basically means to bring your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious. It helps you stay in the present moment instead of worrying about things that may happen in the future or events that have already happened but you still find yourself going over and over them in your head.”
When we are experiencing stress and anxiety, the amygdala, which in general terms is the part of the brain that is in charge of emotional responses gets activated. We know that it is involved in our flight or fight response when we face dangerous or threatening situations. However, as it is the case of panic attacks, the amygdala hyper activates detecting a threat when there is no real threat.
However, grounding techniques can help in breaking this cycle, allowing you to refocus on your physical reactions and divert from those thoughts that are making you feel so stressed and anxious at a specific moment.
Grounding theory and mindfulness
Mindfulness is a term that has been gaining popularity recently and just as the term grounding, it describes how important it is the “act of being present in the here and now”. Jennifer Dellasanta from The transition house explains how “Mindfulness practices include meditation and yoga, but can also include coping methods such as identifying your feelings, acknowledging your emotions without judgment, and, generally speaking, practising kindness for yourself and how you feel.”
More grounding techniques examples (part 1)
The key here is to practice as many times as you need until you feel you are becoming familiar with the technique, however, remember that not all the existing grounding techniques work in every case, you will need to find those that actually work for you.
Some quick grounding tips according to Crystal Raypole from Healthline are:
- physical touch, like holding their hand (if they’re okay with it)
- giving them a textured object to feel
- encouraging them to stretch or move
- encouraging them to repeat a soothing or helpful phrase, like “this feels awful, but it’s not going to hurt me”
- talking slowly and calmly about familiar places or activities
In addition, The Hope Line suggests trying the following techniques that use touch:
- Run cold water over your hands, between your fingers, over the backs, cup the water, etc.
- Rub a cotton ball between your thumb and finger. What sensation do you get? Rub it on your face or arm. How does it feel now?
- Stand barefoot in the grass/dirt/carpet. Pay attention to how the ground feels beneath your toes.
- Rub your hands over your legs where you are sitting…back and forth. What do your pants feel like? How does it feel to your hands? Your legs?
- Wrap yourself in a soft plush blanket and feel the warmth and softness around you.
Here are some that use sight:
- Pick an interesting object in your field of vision and trace its outline with your eyes.
- Put ice in hot water and watch how it changes shape as it melts.
- Look for every object that is blue…every object that is yellow…etc.
Finally, here are some that use sound:
- Go outside and describe the sounds that you hear…cars, traffic, birds, bugs, wind, etc.
- Play calming nature sounds…waves, night sounds, trees gently blowing, etc.
- Play music…some people find pump-up, rockin’ music grounds them. Others want calming tunes. Really give the music all your attention.
More grounding techniques examples (part 2)
Here are some grounding exercises to do outside, in a park, a beach or a setting full of nature:
- Walking barefoot is said to be one of the easiest ways to ground yourself to earth, but we know it may not be the easiest to do since we may feel weird by doing that in certain places such as the office or somewhere while walking down the street (not very hygienic).
The idea is to do it somewhere where you are in contact with sand, grass or even mud. Let your skin get in contact with it so it provides you with grounding energy.
- Lying on the ground. This will allow you to increase your skin-to-earth contact by lying on the ground. It is ideal if you do it somewhere at a park being in touch with the grass or the sand at the beach.
- Roll around like a dog/cat. Cats and dogs tend to roll around on the earth, which seems to have a beneficial effect when discharging negative energy. Try it yourself, roll around on the earth (find a suitable place though). It has been suggested to make you “feel good” and you can actually do it for as long as you want.
These examples are as effective as the ones presented above but may seem more difficult to do, due to the circumstances and what is required from us, but they can be very “grounding” and relaxing.
How can I help someone having a panic attack?
If you have a relative, a friend or a partner that suffers from panic attacks then you may have felt as if not really knowing how to react to help them when you witnessed the first or second or third, etc, panic attack. Here are some tips for you to help you and the person having a panic attack:
- Remain calm. By remaining calm and collected you are actually helping tremendously. Imagine you are witnessing the panic attack and then you start running in circles, from one side to the other and looking distressed. Consequently, they will feel even more anxious and in distress from looking at your behavior, instead try to use a soft and calm tone of voice to remind them you are there, not going anywhere, and they are not alone
Remember panic attacks usually don’t last long and the most intense feelings are said to last between 5 and 10 minutes.
- Ask them if there is anything you can do to help, never assume. Your loved one will have probably established what actually works for them while having a panic attack. For instance, they could have been prescribed medication and you can hand it to them if they are not able to get it themselves.
However, be prepared for the possibility of receiving a short or no response at all. Try not to take it personally, remain as neutral as possible.
- Learn and familiarize yourself with the signs/symptoms. This will help you identify the early signs of a potential panic attack and anticipate. Some of the most common symptoms include the feeling of terror or intense fear, shortness of breath, feeling as having a heart attack, chest pain, dizziness, shaking/trembling, faster heart rate, among others.
- Validate what they are feeling but avoid saying things like “I understand what you are going through” if actually you don’t. People often feel misunderstood, judged and even ashamed. You can try “I am sorry you have to go through this and it certainly sounds tough, but I am here to support you as much as I can”.
Why is this blog about how to ground someone having a panic attack important?
We have discussed many ways on how to ground someone having a panic attack, either to help you go through one or helping someone go through it more easily. However, not all the techniques work for every case so it is really a matter of “trial and error” but you will definitely find the one that you feel the most comfortable with.
However, it is important to consider that if what you are experiencing is too overwhelming or if you are trying to help someone but it is not being effective, then consider seeking the advice of a professional mental health therapist or counselor.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
- 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
International Bipolar Foundation: 9 tips to help you get through a panic attack.
Raypole, C. (2020, Jan.) How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack. Retrieved from Healthline.com.
Allen, S. (n.d) 7 Simple Grounding Techniques For Calming Down Quickly. Retrieved from drsarahallen.com.
McAllister, D. (n.d) 25 Grounding Techniques for Panic Attacks. Retrieved from Thehopeline.com.
Lockett, E. (2019, Aug.) Grounding: Exploring Earthing Science and the Benefits Behind it. Retrieved from Healthline.com.
Dellasanta, J. (2017, Jun.) 3 mindfulness exercises for depression and anxiety. Retrieved from Thetransitionhouse.org.