Panic attacks can be terrifying and overwhelming experiences, and when they occur, it's crucial to respond with empathy and understanding. In this guide, we'll explore what panic attacks are, their visible symptoms, physical symptoms and warning signs, and provide tips on how to help someone having a panic attack. This information is an introduction for HR professionals and anyone who may encounter a colleague or friend experiencing a panic attack. For a more in-depth guide, see the NHS website 
Important - the symptoms of a panic attack can show similarly to the symptoms of a heart attack, although there are some differences.  
If you think someone is having a heart attack it's important to seek the appropriate medical assistance.  
The Patient Info website has details of the differences: a heart attack may be accompanied by pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back and a person may also feel tingling, numbness or pain on one or both arms and shoulders. Panic attacks can be accompanied by a sharl and stabbing pain, with a feeling of heart racing, whereas a heart attack can feel like a pressure on the chest, a squeezing or an ache or burning feeling. 

Understanding Panic Attacks 

Panic Attacks: A panic attack is a sudden, intense surge of fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes. It's a common symptom of panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder. Panic attacks can also be a feature of other mental health conditions and medical conditions. 

Visible Symptoms and Warning Signs of Panic Attacks: 

Panic attacks can manifest with a variety of symptoms, both physical and psychological. Common visible symptoms and warning signs include: 
Rapid Heart Rate: The heart may race, leading to heart palpitations or a feeling of a racing heart. 
Shortness of Breath: Breathing may become shallow and rapid, making it difficult for the person to catch their breath. 
Sweating: Profuse sweating, even in a cool environment. 
Trembling or Shaking: The person may visibly shake or tremble. 
Chest Pain or Discomfort: This can be mistaken for a heart attack. 
Nausea or Upset Stomach: Often accompanied by digestive distress. 
Feeling Dizzy or Lightheaded: A sense of impending fainting. 
Fear of Losing Control or Dying: A person experiencing a panic attack may vocalize these fears. 
Chills or Hot Flashes: The person may feel intensely cold or hot. 
Tingling Sensations: Numbness or tingling in the extremities. 
Overwhelming Fear: Intense fear and anxiety may be present during the attack, often without a clear cause. 

What to Do When Someone Is Having a Panic Attack 

Stay Calm: Your demeanor sets the tone for the situation. If you can stay calm and composed then you will be able to help others in difficult situations. Panic attacks, especially unexpected panic attacks, can be frightening, but a reassuring presence can make a world of difference. 
Create a Safe Space: If possible, move to a quieter, more private area. Reduce sensory stimuli, such as bright lights or loud noises, to help the person feel safer. 
Offer Simple and Clear Support: Ask the person if they are experiencing a panic attack, and if they confirm, offer your help. Use simple, clear language and a calm tone to reassure them. Ask them what you can do to help, rather than assume that your actions are helpful. 
Encourage Slow, Deep Breathing: Breathing exercises are incredibly helpful. Encourage the person to take slow, deep breaths. You can guide them through this by taking a deep breath and having them follow your lead. 
Grounding Techniques: Grounding techniques, like the 5-4-3-2-1 method, can help bring the person back to the present. Ask them to name five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. 
Avoid Judgment and Reassure: Remind the person that what they are experiencing is temporary and will pass. Avoid phrases like "calm down" or "it's not a big deal," as these can be invalidating. 
Suggest They Contact a Mental Health Professional: If the person is comfortable with it, suggest they connect with a mental health professional or counselor. They may find solutions in seeking therapy, which may include behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, or exposure therapy. 
Respect Their Wishes: Some individuals may prefer to be left alone during a panic attack. Respect their wishes and provide support from a distance. 
Be Patient: Panic attacks vary in duration, but they generally subside within minutes. Be patient and understanding throughout the process. 
Encourage Self-Care: After the panic attack has passed, encourage the person to engage in self-care practices, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, seeking therapy, or exploring relaxation techniques. 
Panic attacks can be both physically and emotionally distressing. 
By understanding their symptoms and warning signs and knowing how to respond with empathy and support, you can make a significant difference in helping someone cope with these challenging moments. 
Remember, time and patience, along with a calm and compassionate presence, can go a long way in aiding someone through a panic attack. 
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