What to do if your loved one is having a panic attack.
In an attempt to wipe the tears away, I swept my sleeve across my right cheek.
I tried to keep my head down as I entered the kitchen, but I knew my eyes were puffy. I lazily through my lunch into the microwave, thinking I could make it back to my room without crying more. Instead, my housemate entered:
She asked, “what happened Izzy??”
I didn’t have to look at her to hear the sadness in her voice.
I just shook my head. I didn't want to speak as I felt the corners of my eyes dampen again.
She asked again, with more desperation this time.
When we made eye contact, I continuously shook my head because I knew once I uttered a word I would break down.
In the next moment, I knew I was about to lose control.
I clenched my body and started sobbing uncontrollably as I fell into her arms.
I couldn’t speak.
I could hardly even breathe.
With one look, dried tears turned into soft sobs, which turned into a full-blown panic attack.
I could almost see slivers of light when I tried to force my eyes open. Even when I was able to, tears clouded my vision so badly that the entire room was blurry.
After each wheeze, I got more and more lightheaded. Eventually, my eyes remained shut. For so long I only saw one thing: black; I got consumed into this abyss that I created.
With one hand over my mouth, the other was desperately trying to feel my heartbeat, like I’d been taught to do in the past. But no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t regulate my breathing.
Then my sweatshirt, my attempt to feel safe, became weighed down by my sweat. It only added to the feeling of suffocation I couldn’t escape.
I heard voices begging me to look, begging me to open my eyes, but I couldn’t.
Honestly, I have no clue how long I stood in my kitchen being held. All I remember is feeling like my heart was going to explode out of my chest.
I was so fucking scared.
At that moment, barely conscious and weak, I expected to collapse on the kitchen floor.
I nearly did.
The thing is, I didn’t have to see myself to know how scary I must’ve looked. It’s been at least two years since I experienced a panic attack like that, and it all started from one bad phone call.
I’ve come to a realization a long time ago that having anxiety means bad news will always trigger me. It may or may not always result in a panic attack, but if it does, it’s just a matter of how I learn to handle it.
So what are you supposed to do when you see your friend suffering like that?
How can you possibly help?
Like anything else, it’s more about knowing the right things to say.
In my opinion, the most effective thing you can do to help someone through a panic attack is talk to them.
I need you to speak to me.
Please, force me to open my eyes and get a grip on reality. If I can’t do that right away, which I probably won’t, continue talking to me until I do.
This also includes breathing. Talk to me about getting enough air in.
Here’s the best breathing technique I was taught to use during a panic attack: with your eyes closed, take three deliberate, deep breaths in, and slowly breathe them out.
*Key: when you blow out you have to purse your lips as if you’re blowing out a candle*
Something else that I’ve found to be very effective is fresh air.
Depending on where you are at the time of the panic attack, being outside can be very helpful. If you can get the person outside, then tell them to focus on certain things.
Focus on anything that will activate the five senses. For example, the way the sun feels on your cheeks, the smell of flowers, the sound of birds chirping. Anything.
In my opinion, by doing this you will bring the person back down to a state of reality.
Although I’m not a mental health expert, I know what I need during a panic attack. And who knows, maybe your friend / family / loved one could benefit from these tips too.