Panic Attack Relief: 5 Ways Others Can Help

I’m dying.

That’s what I thought when I had my first panic attack.

I was on a plane, coming home from a family vacation, when we began to experience a great deal of turbulence.

Flying was already something I greatly disliked, so throwing in turbulence made me want to find the nearest exit and parachute out.  As that wasn’t an option, I was forced to sit (slump) in my seat for 30 minutes, clinging to my husband for dear life, a barf bag close by, while my stomach churned, heart raced, and arms and legs went completely numb!

Possibly the worst thing about the experience was that my husband knew something was going on, but had no idea what to do.  And I was too freaked out to talk, much less explain what I needed. Had he known what was happening, and what to do, I could have gotten some much needed panic attack relief.


Maryanne Walker Kingwood anxiety counselor

The first question many people asked whenever they experience a similar situation is “did I just have a panic attack?”.  So how do you know when you’re having a panic attack?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear and discomfort that reaches its peak within minutes and includes at least 4 of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying
  • Scary stuff to read; much scarier to experience.

Once a person knows they’ve had a panic attack, they usually try to find relief. Unfortunately, panic attack relief can be hard to come by when you’re by yourself.  This is true for one simple reason.  For many people, a panic attack brings on a sense of disassociation, making it nearly impossible to think clearly.

This is why relief can be difficult to find, unless we have someone to “help” us. Even if you know what to do, letting others around you know what’s going on when you have an attack and what they can do, can be incredibly helpful in finding panic attack relief quicker.

Everyone is different so no panic attack relief plan is going to be the same. However, below are some things many people find helpful to have others do whenever they’re having a panic attack:

  • Talk in a low, calm voice.  People often like to be reassured that everything is going to be okay.  Also, ask a person to help you regulate your breathing if you’re hyperventilating by guiding you to take some slow, deep breaths.
  • Go somewhere quiet.  If you’re at work, find a co-worker that can help. Have that person take you to a break room or the bathroom, someplace where you don’t have to deal with other people asking questions or crowding you.  At home, have an appointed family member take you to a bedroom or someplace away from the hub of the house, some place calming.
  • Divert attention.  Most people become very focused on their breathing (or lack of) whenever they have a panic attack.  Shifting focus to other senses can be helpful. Have someone rub ice your wrist, put your hands in cool water, turn on soft music, give you something to drink, put a cold towel on your forehead.
  • Help with Grounding. In line with diversion is something called grounding.  There are many different grounding techniques, most are very helpful for panic attacks.  That’s because of what I mentioned earlier. Panic attacks leave many people feeling very disoriented, which in itself can be scary.

Grounding techniques bring us back to the here and now.  A simple grounding technique to have someone guide you through is to ask the following questions:


Seeing: “What do you see?” Name 5 things you see around you.

Hearing: “What do you hear?” Listen, really, to sounds around you.

Feeling: “What are you feeling?”  This is kind of a scary question for most, but verbalizing what you’re feeling has the amazing effect of taking away a lot of the fear.

Smelling: “What do you smell?” If you’re like me, you’ll smell nothing because I have zero sense of smell most of the time, but it’s worth thinking about.

Tasting: “What do you taste?”  If chewing gum, or eating something calms you down, this would be a great time to pop those things in your mouth and notice, really notice, the flavors.

  • Leave you alone.  Sometimes those around us want to help, but end up making things worse.  Let others around you know if you simply have to be alone during a panic attack. Also, if panic attack relief for you includes not being touched or not being talked to, let others know that as well.
Trying different things for panic attack relief will help you to know what works for you. Then, teach others around you, before an attack occurs, what they can do (or not do), which can make a big difference in how quickly you recover.
Ideas, thoughts, or questions about panic attack relief?  Leave a comment and let me know what works for you.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Couch Potatoes

I hate to admit this, but my living room couch is my favorite place in the house.  It’s where I do most of my writing, bill paying, scheduling, and reading.  I relax, work, and, sometimes, nap there.  And when I work as a therapist, I simply exchange my living room couch for a comfy leather recliner in my office.

Maryanne Walker, LPC Kingwood Counselor

I’ve come to realize, however, that there’s a big problem with being a couch potato lover, and that’s the fact that it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says that in order to lead a healthy lifestyle, one must move. Preferably off the couch.  Which means us couch lovers have to figure out how to leave our cocoon of comfort and be more active if we also want to have a healthy lifestyle.

So how do you get moving and lead a healthy lifestyle when you really just want to veg on your living room couch?

  • Don’t wait for motivation to show up

When I was in college, I loved to work out.  Maybe love is too strong of a word, but I did manage to regularly take an aerobics class (what can I say, it was the early 90s) and jogged quite frequently.  Now, I’m lucky if I can drag myself from my couch to the $1,200 elliptical machine in my bedroom, the one that I swore to my husband would be in constant use.

When I think about what stops me from walking to the bedroom, putting on some earphones, and exercising for 30 minutes, the only thing I can come up with is that I lack the motivation.  The catch-22, however, is that I only find motivation after I work out.  If I work out for even one day, I am much more motivated to work out the next, which has led me to believe motivation isn’t going to come looking for me.  I have to go looking for it.

  • Move in ordinary ways

Two years ago I spent a small fortune on purchasing some P90x workout dvds (do you see a pattern here?).  The program is great, but grueling, especially if you’re a couch lover.  After four days of one hour workouts, I threw in the towel.  For one, I could not keep up.  Two, I didn’t have one hour a day to work out.

Then I shifted the way I defined what is exercise.  When I stopped believing physical activity could only be accomplished through some trend-of-the-moment exercise program, I realized daily life provides plenty of opportunities to move.  Now I walk up my stairs several times a day.  I park my car far from my office, and also avoid using the elevator whenever necessary.  I intentionally look for ways I can go about my normal routine and move at the same time.

  • Don’t eat on the couch

Did I mention I also like to eat while sitting on my couch?  This is a common mistake we often make whenever trying to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Whenever we sit on the couch and eat, we are also usually doing something else at the same time, like watching television or reading.  The problem is that our brain then makes a connection between food and entertainment. And that connection means that whenever I pick up a book or watch tv, I also think I need to eat as well.

Just like the bed is only suppose to be used for sleeping and sex, our couches need to be used only for certain activities like watching tv or reading.  Be aware of other activities taking place on the couch, such as eating.  When you link food with sitting on a couch, healthy living becomes a much more difficult task.

  • Sit on the couch and be active

Sound like an oxymoron?  Actually you can sit on your couch and still manage to be somewhat active.

Sometimes I use my couch time to do breathing or arm exercises.  I’ve also done some exercises with light weights, all while on my couch and watching television.

Consider pairing sitting on the couch with another activity like painting nails, sitting yoga, or writing. If you start to think about all the things you can do when sitting on the couch, you’ll quickly find there’s a long list of activities that can keep you active in some way.

  • Set an intention for healthy living

Nike’s old slogan of Just Do It is really a great rule for healthy living.  Healthy living does not come naturally for a lot of us.  We have to make a committed effort to eat more healthy, move more, and put self care practices into place.

That’s where intentions come into play.  Setting an intention doesn’t mean you will never find yourself vegging on the couch again.  If you’re like me, my intention to live a more healthy lifestyle is one I have to constantly recommit to.  But with the intention in place, we can visualize healthy living as a goal and attempt to get off the couch more so that when we do sit down and relax, we know we’ve earned it.

Are you a couch potato?  Is living a healthy lifestyle a struggle?  I would love to hear about the things that work for you as well as the things that don’t.