A panic attack is a feeling of intense anxiety. The physical signs can be shaking, feeling disorientated, feeling nauseous or sick, with a rapid, irregular heartbeat, a dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness. It can be a scary experience for the person themselves and also for anyone witnessing the incident. Most panic attacks can last anywhere from around five to thirty minutes.
The best way to help someone having a panic attack is to stay calm and gently reassure the person that they will be OK. Encourage the person to breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as they can, through their nose while you count to five and then count to five whilst they breathe slowly out through their mouth. It might help them to focus by closing their eyes. You could offer sips of water, too.
Expect them to start to feeling better in a few minutes, however they may feel tired afterwards.
Note: Often in films and on TV you see someone breathing in and out of a paper bag, this is not to be recommended, particularly if they are having an asthma attack it could make things much worse. During asthma attacks, casualties wheeze, struggling to breathe out, whereas large volumes of air can be heard entering and leaving the lungs when someone is hyperventilating and having a panic attack.
Taking regular exercise, eating healthy well-balanced meals and avoiding caffeine, smoking and alcohol will all help to prevent panic attacks and feelings of anxiety. Breathing slowly and deeply will also help to prevent panic attacks. The NHS has a good selection of apps which can help to manage and improve health. The charity No panic has a great website with free resources, too. If the person is having persistent panic attacks, they should seek medical advice.
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