Trigger warnings: Anxiety, panic attacks
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that has had a panic attack and been told to just ‘calm down’; like it’s that easy. When I have a panic attack and someone tells me to calm down, I tend to panic more, and that’s not what I’m aiming for. I figured, since not many people know how to deal with a friend having a panic attack, I would give a little advice.
The first thing that’s important to keep in mind is that if you panic, your friend is also going to panic. I know sometimes it can be difficult to watch your friend struggling so much, but it’s very important that you stay as calm as possible. If you start to panic then your friend is going to panic more and the situation will only get worse.
Secondly, try to help your friend breathe. Getting your friend to take deep breaths, in and out through their mouth can work wonders. It forces their breathing to come down to a normal level, and then calms the rest of their body as well. Try counting for them, 5 seconds in, hold for five seconds, then 5 seconds out; or more if necessary. But try not to make them hold their breath for too long!
Thirdly, ask them if they need anything specific. Sometimes people have specific items that can help them stay calm. For me personally, I usually have a specific teddy with me, and hugging that can help me to calm down. If you know that your friend has an item like this, get it for them. If you don’t know, ask them. They’ll tell you what they need.
The fourth thing, try and get them some water. They may refuse it straight away, I normally do, but once they calm down a bit it might come in handy. Water is good for the body, so if your friend gets lightheaded it can stop them from feeling so dizzy!
And finally, make sure they have space. The most important thing is to make sure your friend has breathing room, and feels comfortable. Panic attacks are quite commonly made worse by having lots of people around worrying about them. Try to get rid of anyone they don’t want there, and make them feel as comfortable as possible. Often your friend will know what they need, and it can often just be time to let the panic attack pass.
Disclaimer: Not everything I say will work for everyone, so make sure you check what will work and what won’t before trying to help someone. It’s important to listen to your friend.
Written and illustrated by Charlie Osborne