Module 6 - Anxiety Disorders

What should I do if someone is having a panic attack?

Panic attacks are very unpleasant and the person will usually present with profound anxiety and a range of physical symptoms that can include a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating and shaking. Often the person is worried that they are having a heart attack and are going to die and sometimes this can only be excluded with a medical review, particularly if this is the first attack. Once a panic attack has been confirmed the person should be assisted to seek appropriate professional help from a mental health practitioner. If you are supporting someone who is having a panic attack it is important remain calm yourself to help the person feel calm while waiting for assistance. It is best that they sit down in case they fall over and it helps if they can focus on something that helps them relax and distracts them from thinking about the physical sensations. There is usually little point in having PRN medication as by the time it starts to work the panic attack will usually have ceased naturally, and there is a risk of the person becoming dependent on the medication. If the attacks are part of a recurrent pattern then the person will probably know that this is a panic attack and may be able to tell you this. Often they will have a set of instructions to follow. These can include specific relaxation techniques and thoughts that they can distract themselves with. Sometimes people with intellectual disability may need reminding to use these techniques as well as to be guided in their use.  
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