Anxiety attacks are high on current health topics. They can be terrifying and overwhelming experiences of intense fear, and when they occur, it's crucial to respond with empathy and understanding. In this guide, we'll explore what anxiety attacks are, their visible symptoms, physical symptoms and warning signs, and provide tips on how to help someone having a anxiety attack. This information is an introduction for HR professionals and anyone who may encounter a colleague or friend experiencing an anxiety attack. For a more in-depth guide, including information about panic disorder, 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 from a health care provider. 
 
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 sharp 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. 
 
Proper diagnosis of panic disorder should only be made by a healthcare professional. If a staff member has feelings of anxiety or feelings of panic that are affecting their quality of life for a period of time then it would be beneficial for them to see a doctor. It may also be related to a mental health condition, so to put minds at rest do encourage them to seek medical attention. This article provides health tips and is an insight into symptoms of panic attacks, not a replacement for seeking help for mental health concerns. 
 
With those caveats in mind, let us continue! 

Visible Symptoms and Warning Signs of Panic Attacks: 

Panic attacks and feelings of anxiety can manifest with a variety of symptoms, both physical and psychological. Common signs of anxiety 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: Shallow breathing, or rapid breathing, making it difficult for the person to catch their breath. 
Sweating: Profuse sweating, even in a cool environment, or certain social situations 
Trembling or Shaking: The person may visibly shake or tremble and muscle tension may not feel right 
Chest Pain or Discomfort: This can be mistaken for a heart attack - seek medical attention from a health care provider 
Nausea or Upset Stomach: Often accompanied by digestive distress. 
Feeling Dizzy or Lightheaded: A sense of impending fainting. 
Fear of Losing Control: A person experiencing a panic attack may have an intense feeling of helplessness 
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 or within obvious stressful situations. 

What to Do When Someone Is Having a Panic Attack 

Knowing what to do for someone showing panic attack symptoms will help them over the current episode. If your staff member is having frequent panic attacks or a history of anxiety then speak with them about what they might need in place in order to support them for any future episodes.  
 
People with anxiety disorder or people with panic disorder (as diagnosed by a health care provider) may have specific needs to manage their daily life or to cope with social situations. Take some time, once the current attack has passed, to speak about what they need, and how to avoid dangerous situations, that cause intense anxiety. Don't let the panic attack be the only time you talk with them about this, check in for a couple of minutes from time to time or during scheduled one-to-ones to see whether the physical conditions at work are ok or whether they have had moments of panic or workplace anxiety that you can learn from and make adjustments. 
 
Ask whether seeing a mental health specialist might be useful for them - as a health care provider, we also have on-demand mental health services where an employer only pays for appointments that an employee books- it's confidential for the member of staff, as you would expect with any mental health provider. 
 
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 and reduce the risk of physical harm caused by, for example. fainting 
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 they need to avoid making their anxiety worse, 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 - this may promote progressive muscle relaxation and avoid making the panic attack worse. 
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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