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How To Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

As human beings, it’s our nature to want to help others, especially if someone is ill or has an emotional or physical reaction to an uncomfortable situation. There’s only so much support you can offer, but someone having a panic attack can be helped if you know what you’re facing.

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an unexpected incident of powerful fear that causes extreme physical reactions without danger or apparent cause. They can be very frightening, sometimes making you think you’re out of control, experiencing a heart attack, or close to dying.

Most people only have a few in their lifetime, and the symptoms often go away on their own when the stress ends. But frequent, unexpected panic attacks and fear of another could be signs of a condition called panic disorder.

What Are The Symptoms?

The worse thing about a panic attack is the fear it may happen again when you least expect it. Other symptoms include:

  • Visions of imminent doom or danger
  • Fast, pounding heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Constriction in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Queasiness
  • Stomach pains
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint
  • You feel numb or tingly
  • You may feel detached from reality

Understanding What Causes a Panic Attack

No one knows what causes a panic attack, but there are many possible factors. Our natural fight-or-flight response kicks in when there’s perceived danger, leading to a panic attack, but there may be other causes, too:

  • Your genetic make-up. If you have a blood relative who experiences panic attacks, you may be more likely to have them, too.
  • Or sensitive personality of one that is prone to negative emotions or stress.
  • Physical changes in your brain.

Risk Factors

Panic attacks affect twice as many women as men and often begin in the late teen years or early adulthood (between 20 and 29 years of age). Some people may be predisposed to having them based on different factors. They could be experiencing intense daily stress, have a family history of panic attacks, have substance abuse disorder, smoked tobacco as a teenager, recently faced a life-altering event, or survived instances of traumas during childhood. 

Helping Someone Having a Panic Attack

If someone you know has a panic attack that appears to be life-threatening or has worsened another medical problem, request medical attention as soon as possible. While most panic attacks aren’t dangerous, the best way to help is to know the steps you can take and the ones to avoid on someone else’s behalf.

Here’s what you can do

  • Remain calm. Maintaining your composure when someone is having a panic attack can be a source of strength for the other person. Most panic attacks are short, lasting from a few minutes to 30 at most, and a cool demeanor and soothing voice can be helpful.
  • Don’t leave the person alone until you’re certain of recovery and there’s no other danger present. Even if panic attack symptoms appear to have subsided, staying with someone for a few extra minutes – perhaps offering a ride home – may be critical.
  • Understanding, positivity, and encouragement are other sources of strength for someone having a panic attack. Questions should be thoughtful, your attitude should remain cautious but upbeat, and offering gentle encouragement is also recommended.
  • Offer to help your friend learn more about panic attacks, including potential treatment options. One kind of therapy growing in popularity is ketamine infusions, available at specialty clinics nationwide.
  • Be firm when encouraging your friend to seek medical care. Frequent and lengthy panic attacks can have serious consequences if ignored, and may result in something more serious like panic disorder or social anxiety disorder.

Here’s what not to do

  • Don’t gaslight your friend or make that person believe their experience isn’t real. Panic attacks are real and could be warning signs of other health problems.
  • Don’t joke about what’s happening with remarks like, “Wow, you’re being dramatic,” or, “Suck it up.” 
  • Don’t compare what your friend is experiencing to the daily stress you might experience.
  • Don’t shame your friend or minimize the seriousness of what’s happening.

Specialty Clinics Offer Alternative Treatment Options

A growing trend among some people with anxiety, stress, or who experience panic attacks is to explore the benefits of ketamine infusion therapy. IV ketamine therapy is available at specialty clinics nationwide but should only be utilized after talking with a healthcare provider about the potential benefits.

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