Panic attacks often occur to anyone without warning. So whenever someone had an attack, it is important that you know what to do.
Understand what a panic attack is. A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming fear or anxiety. It is manifested by several signs and symptoms. During an attack, a person experiences increased heartbeat or palpitation, chest pain, hyperventilation or shortness of breath, stomach churning, upset stomach, trembling and shaking, muscle tension, sweating, dizziness and light-headedness, hot or cold flashes, tingling sensation or numbness, fear of dying, going crazy or losing control and feeling detached from the surroundings.
Seek for emergency medical help. It is important to call for a health professional especially if a person experiences an attack for the first time.
Identify the cause of the symptoms. The signs and symptoms of panic attack are similar to medical conditions. Hyperventilation or shortness of breath can be a sign of asthma. Chest pain, increased heartbeat or palpitation and sweating can be a heart attack. Talk to the person and determine if the symptoms are caused by other medical conditions. When in doubt, a health professional will be a great help.
While waiting for help, find the cause of attack. Once it is established that the cause of the symptoms is really a panic attack, find the source of the panic and take the person away from it. Do not make an assumption about what the person needs. A person who is suffering from the attack may know exactly what to do or has medications which will get him through the attack, so it is best to ask.
Don’t surprise the patient. Be predictable with your movements. Do not grab, hold or restrain. Keep him calm and stay calm yourself. Reassure the person that everything is going to be fine but do not dismiss his fear by saying “it’s all in your mind” or “don’t worry about it” or “you are overreacting.” Take note that the fear is very real to the victim so it dismissing the fear has no effect or can even make the matter worse.
Help the patient to control his breathing. Many patients breathe heavily during an attack; others hold their breath. Using deep breathing technique is a very effective way to purge the symptoms of a panic attack as well as calm the patient down. Guide the person and tell him to breathe in for 3 slow counts. Then ask him to hold his breath for 3 slow counts and breathe out for another 3 slow counts. Do this several times until the person is calm. You can also advice him to breathe into a paper bag. This way, he will re-breathe his carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide helps correct the blood acid level that had been disturbed by excessive breathing. But be careful when using paper bags since they may trigger another fear.
Stay with the person throughout his ordeal. Never leave a person especially if he is having difficulty in breathing. Be patient. They may act rude or unfriendly but remember that it is temporary and will go back to normal as soon as the attack is over.
Do not forget that for the patient, the thoughts are real. Reassure him the help is on the way. Never allow the patient to do things that will put his life at risk.