13 Ways You Can Help Me When I'm Having a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are not a pretty sight. News flash! They don’t feel that great either. Here are a few tips in my experience that help me:

1. Stay calm.

If you only take one thing from reading this article, this is it. Stay calm. I can sense you freaking out, and it will make me freak out more.

2. Tell me to breathe.

Tell me to take a deep breath in, and exhale. Sometimes I forget to breathe or I’m hyperventilating.

3. Tell me to stop stimming.

I’m Autistic and when stressed, I stim a lot more. Usually rubbing my fingers, buttons, flicking my fingers, etc. It calms me to a point, but once my anxiety skyrockets, it does more harm than good. It keeps me stuck in my head. (And at times I’ve rubbed my skin until it bled). Tell me to put my hands flat on my knees.

4. Move things out of my way.

I’m not thinking rationally at this time and may try to injure myself unintentionally or intentionally. I’m not in control of my body right now. I may also hit myself, so please hold my hands down. (I’ve given myself a few black eyes in the past.)

5. Sit with me.

Get down to my level, don’t loom above me.

6. Touch me.

Touching me helps bring to back to reality, or as some people say, grounds me. Hold my hand, rub my back. If you feel comfortable, hug me. By hug me I mean give me a bear hug, pressure and tightness comforts me. It will calm me down.

7. Talk.

Talk to me. Speak slowly and calmly. With a soft voice. Please do not yell. Tell me, “it’s going to be alright,” “you’re OK” or even just tell me a story. The words give me something to focus on. Something to ground me. Heck, you don’t even have to talk to me — have a conversation with someone if there’s two of you there.

8. Stay with me.

Don’t leave me alone. Right now I’m terrified, my brain is trying to trick me into thinking I’m in danger. I know how illogical it is, but imagine if someone ditched you in a haunted house.

9. Keep things quiet.

Unfortunately, sounds bother me a lot on a regular basis, but when I’m anxious, they bother me more. Turn off the television. If the noise can’t be removed, try to remove me if possible.

10. Play some music.

I like to call my anxiety “Fluffy” because it reminds me of the three-headed dog in “Harry Potter.” As Hagrid says in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” “Fluffy’s a piece o’ cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus’ play him a bit o’ music an’ he’ll go straight off ter sleep.” I have a playlist on my phone called “Chillax” and it helps take the edge off.

11. If I’m verbal, ask me simple questions.

Depending on my verbal ability, they may have to be “yes” or “no” questions. But depending how far gone I am, ask me what my favorite color is. Ask me about my favorite movie.

12. Wait it out.

Eventually I’ll calm down (or pass out — we’ll get to that in a minute), and get back to normal. I find drinking some water helps. When I’m back, I’ll be embarrassed and ashamed. So don’t take it personally if I don’t talk much. I want to crawl into a hole and never come out.

13. Protect my head if I pass out.

My body can only take so much hyperventilating and fear before my brain shuts down. Literally. I will pass out. Protect my head, and talk to me. I should come to within a few minutes.

And a bonus:

Thank You. For anyone who has helped me through a panic attack, for anyone who has or will hold my hand, or hug me, thank you. I don’t always remember what happened or what you did, but please understand I appreciate everything. And although I may not say it or show it, please know, from the bottom of my heart (or lack thereof), I sincerely thank you for everything.

Unsplash photo via Keagan Henman

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