In this guide, we will discuss “Should you hug someone having a panic attack”, a few things to consider about what you can do to help and things to avoid. Moreover, we would see some of the things a panic attack sufferer may be thinking when they are having a panic attack so you can understand a bit more about what they have to deal with.
Should you hug someone having a panic attack?
If you constantly wonder, ‘Should I hug someone having a panic attack?’, let us tell you that we can’t actually assume a hug or physical contact can help calm them down right away. Actually, some people may be over-sensitive to touch, which can make them feel threatened and make things even more complicated. So try not to hug someone having a panic attack until you have their permission to do so because while some might appreciate it, others can take it as assault.
If you have seen someone close to you having a panic attack, you may have felt helpless and clueless about what to do to help them. This is actually completely normal, most people don’t really know what to do in that type of situation or how they can help, so the normal reaction would be to avoid doing anything at all just not to make things worse.
We get it, for some people hugs are vital and somehow make them feel better, but there is actually some science behind it, even for something so simple.
So what is a panic attack and is it the same as an anxiety attack? you may be asking yourself. The difference will actually be related to the stressor or the source of the attack. For instance, an anxiety attack usually happens when there is an extreme reaction to a stressor where the duration is often related to it. If the stressor is gone or removed, the anxiety attack subsides.
On the other hand, if we talk about a panic attack, there is no need to have a defined stressor for the attack to occur. Subsequently, in terms of duration, it may not be as short-lived as the anxiety attack. However, they can share the same symptomatology so they can be easily confused with one another.
What can we do?
Here are some of the things to consider doing when helping someone go through a panic attack:
- It is important to remember to be patient, sensitive, and assertive. When someone is having a panic attack it is a scary experience, every time. However, being able to be a soothing presence can make the other person feel more secure when facing a panic attack.
- Try to breathe with the person having a panic attack, keep a steady and consistent pace. The idea is to help them normalize their breathing pattern and sync/match it with yours, remind them this will pass and how they are able to go through it.
- Ask them if they would like a hug or if you can touch them in their shoulder, back, or grab their hand. If they allow you to touch them, it is a step closer for them to calm down but if they don’t allow you to, don’t insist or force them.
- Ask them if there is anything you can do to help or if there is something they need. Pay attention to what they are saying and keep an open mind.
What can we avoid?
Here are a few things to avoid when trying to help someone that is having a panic attack:
- Don’t freak out. This could be the first time you witness a panic attack but it is likely they have experienced panic attacks before and they know the panic attack won’t last forever. However, make sure to control your tone of voice because it can actually make things worse for them.
- Avoid telling them to relax or calm down. If it was that simple, they would do it on their own but it is our mistake to oversimplify what they are experiencing and the expected solution.
- Avoid assuming what they need. Maybe, a hug is something that helps you calm down and feel better but we can’t expect it will work with anyone else or it is simply what they need. Moreover, when someone is having a panic attack they are in an ‘alert’ mode and are more sensitive than usual so touching them can actually increase their physical activity or may even be perceived as a threat.
- Avoid telling them “I understand what you are going through” if you are not really familiar with it, and even more so, remember that everyone can experience panic attacks differently. Listen, instead of assuming.
- Avoid judging them. Many panic attack sufferers feel ashamed about having a panic attack so judging them can add to it. Sometimes we don’t think about what we say, making them feel worse than they already feel.
- Avoid making a bunch of questions. It is normal to want to know what is happening or why but when we bombard them with a lot of questions can confuse them even more and may even create conflict/confrontation.
Understanding a panic attack sufferer
Many panic attack sufferers won’t feel able to talk about what they feel or how they feel out of shame or embarrassment. However, if you really want to understand a little bit how they feel keep reading.
When someone suffers from panic attacks, they would like to understand what causes it or how to stop it but they really don’t. Most of them are just certain they are having one and would hope for it to end soon. Moreover, most of them express how exhausting panic attacks are and how drained they feel after, just wanting to take a nap after it.
In addition, it feels just logical to tell them ‘stop thinking about it’ or ‘stop letting things affect you so much’ as if it would just go away on its own or somehow they will suddenly stop if they want to or control it at their own will, but it is not a choice. Remember, they are not doing it on purpose.
Sometimes you may feel angry or frustrated because they tend to cancel plans last minute but we need to understand how they feel safer and more comfortable at home than at a crowded party. Moreover, if you are not used to seeing them having a panic attack, pointing out their symptoms might seem like something normal but it really isn’t helpful. Besides, remember how they are even more aware of them than you do.
If you have tried to hug your friend when they were having a panic attack without asking, they may have become even more agitated, make them feel claustrophobic, and may have ended up in confrontation. Remind yourself to ask before assuming and giving them as much space to recover as they need. Sometimes doing less is considered more.
On the other hand, we have discussed how everyone can experience panic attacks in a different way. For some, they are not always hyperventilating or screaming, they sometimes go silent and freeze while feeling how their heart is about to pop out of their chest. They might look OK, but it doesn’t mean they really are, however, avoid feeling pity, bad or sorry for them. What they may want at that moment is simply someone who is not giving up on them, to support them and let them vent.
Next time you see someone having a panic attack remember how they can experience anxiety differently and put yourself in their shoes.
Why is this blog about Should you hug someone having a panic attack important?
As we have discussed when thinking ‘Should you hug someone having a panic attack?’, the best thing to do is to ask them and don’t assume what you think they need just because it is something that has worked for you. Moreover, consider that it is not an easy situation to go through, and judging them or telling them to calm down won’t help them at all, so avoid it at all costs.
Instead, be patient, be there for them, ask them if there is something you can do to help or if there is something they need. Nevertheless, consider how breathing is key so remind them to and guide them through it, slowly helping them to calm down.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Should you hug someone having a panic attack
Does hugging someone calm them down?
It is believed that hugging someone helps relax the muscles, increase circulation, and releases endorphins in the body which improves their mood. However, not everyone likes to receive hugs so we need to ask first before hugging someone to try to calm them down or we could make things worse.
Should you kiss someone having a panic attack?
Kissing someone that is having a panic attack may not be a good idea (depending on the person)but if you feel like it might help them, try to avoid kissing them in their face. Many people find comfort having their partner kiss them on the shoulder or temple when they are having a panic attack but just make sure you ask for permission before you do it.
What should you not do when someone is having a panic attack?
What you should not do when someone is having a panic attack is judge them, limit their movements/restraining them, calling an ambulance, filling them with a lot of questions or just leaving them alone.
Do Hugs help anxiety?
Hugs are said to be helpful to reduce anxiety symptoms since endorphins and stimulate oxytocin release which can boost your mood and have a calming effect. However, not everyone is a hugger or likes receiving hugs, so make sure to ask first.
What happens when you hug someone for 20 seconds?
If you hug someone for 20 seconds, it can be helpful to alleviate stress and anxiety. As indicated by thetimes.co.uk, “A lingering embrace releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, which can lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate and improve your mood.”
Challengethestorm.org: “Panic Attack: Do’s and Don’ts”
Lorenz, A. (2016, Jun.) 20 Things People Who Have Panic Attacks Wish Their Friends Understood. Retrieved from themighty.com.