Should you hug someone having a panic attack?

In this blog we will answer the question “Should you hug someone having a panic attack?”

We will also discuss what a panic attack is and what one can do to help someone who is having a panic attack.

Should you hug someone having a panic attack?

Generally speaking, you should avoid hiding someone if they are having a panic attack- especially when the person is someone you do not share a close relationship with. 

The answer to whether you should hug someone when they are having a panic attack depends on what it is that they need at the moment. 

When someone is having a panic attack, they might want space while other people might want to hold someone’s hands or to be held in general. However, all of this depends on the person, the situation, and the relationship between you and the person having the attack. 

The best thing you can do if you are debating if you should give them a hug is to ask them what you can do to help them. 

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are sudden and strong physical reactions in response to feelings of fear and anxiety that an individual has to seemingly ordinary and non-threatening situations. 

These attacks manifest in the form of physical symptoms like their racing heart, fast breathing and sweating, trembling, and feeling and thoughts of overwhelming anxiety and worry.

Individuals who experience panic attacks tend to also experience other symptoms such as:

  • Heightened vigilance for their own physical symptoms
  • Anxious and irrational thinking
  • A strong feeling of dread
  • Fear of going mad, losing control, or dying
  • Feeling lightheaded and dizzy
  • Tingling and chills, particularly in the arms and hands
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Hot flushes
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • A feeling of constriction in the chest
  • Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath 
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Tense muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • Depersonalization and derealisation.

Individuals who experience panic attacks also develop this intense anxiety and fear of the panic attacks reoccurring that this anxiety and worry eventually leads to a panic attack because of heightened stress. When it recurs frequently over a short amount of time, the individual is believed to have Panic Disorder. 

Panic attacks usually occur when an individual is younger- usually in their teenage years or in their young adult years and persist on. Some children might also experience panic attacks under severe stress, but it is rare. 

Panic attacks can occur when the individual is under severe stress and their stress response is activated; however, it can also occur when there is no danger and they are in a stress free situation- such as them sleeping or watching TV.

It is this occurrence, when there is no inherent stressor or threat, that individuals often begin to think that they are about to die or are having a heart attack when they get a panic attack since they are unaware of what is happening to them.

What they are unaware of is probably the fact that these attacks are usually caused by high levels of Chronic (ongoing) stress or Acute stress where there is an increase in stress chemicals in the body leading to the attack. Other cases can include stimulant ingestion such as excessive caffeine intake, illnesses, and change in environment which causes fear and anxiety. 

What to do when someone is having a panic attack?

Here are a few steps that you can do to help someone who is having a panic attack:

Stay calm

When you notice someone hyperventilating and having a panic attack, it is very crucial that you remain calm. Panic attacks are not fatal and are not going to lead to something more serious. 

However, the individual with them does not realise this. So they are most probably terrified so in order to help them, you have to stay calm. 

Give reassurances

The next thing you can do is to approach them, give them space. Do not crowd them and instead, start by assuring them that they are safe and that this panic attack will pass. 

Let them know that you are there for them, and help them by reminding them that they are not dying, that it will pass, and remind them to breathe. 

Ask them how you can help

Now, most people who have this panic attack regularly will know how to cope so the best thing you can do for them is to ask them how you can help them. 

They might have a hard time communicating their needs, so ask them calmly and take notice of their body language.  For example, if they push you away when they are having an attack or tend to withdraw into themselves- understand that they are seeking space, so don’t crowd them and just sit next to them, reassuring them.

Don’t take their response personally, for example if they slap your hands away when you try to touch them. Instead be prepared of for any response because when people have a panic attack their judgement and ability to communicate is effected, 

Focus on action over words

Now, another for you to remember that an episode of a panic attack will last a maximum of twenty minutes however, for most people it resolves shorter than that, 

When they are having an attack, focus on what you can do rather than focus on what you can say to them.

Ask them if they would like you to leave the room because some people might want privacy or ask them if you can help them move somewhere or move some body parts, like free their hands etc,

You can also remind them to keep breathing and remind them that they might be feeling anxious, scared, and confused but let them know that it will pass and that there is nothing to be afraid of. 

Engage in conversation

Now, another thing you can do for them to make light conversation, this is to help distract them from the panic. Make sure that you take note of their reaction to the questions, some people might not want to talk.

Let the topic of your conversation be related to their name, what they do, and other generic questions like what the date is, what colour is the sky etc. this is to help direct and ground them to reality. 

Help them stay grounded

Grounding techniques are everyday coping tools that can help an individual self-regulate their negative emotions, thoughts, and as a result cope and manage stress and anxiety.

These techniques help individuals ground or anchor themselves to the present instead of being swept away by their emotions and unhelpful thoughts. 

These techniques can be anything that allows you to bring yourself to the present and calm yourself down so that you are not in a constant state of destress. It helps to switch off the stress flight or fly responses and instead allow the body to calm down and relax by focusing on the present that has no imagined threat.

Some effective grounding techniques can include:

  • Helping them sit down and relax while focusing on breathing in and out slowly and  asking them to notice how it feels sitting on the chair.
  • The 5-4-3-2-1 technique: This is a grounding technique for you to try for yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts and unhelpful feelings. First you start by asking them to acknowledge FIVE things they see around them. Then, acknowledge FOUR things they can touch. Followed by acknowledging THREE things they hear. You then go on to acknowledge TWO things they can smell and finally ONE thing they can taste.
  • Counting from one to 10 out of order or performing simple mathematical calculations,

Validate their distress

After the panic attack what you can do is to listen to them if they have anything to say or if there is something you can do for them. 

Another thing that is crucial is to validate their distress when they open up about it, don’t dismiss it. Instead an empathic response can be more helpful such as, “That sounds really tough. I’m sorry you experienced that. Let me know what I can do to support you.”

Conclusion

In this blog we have answered the question “Should you hug someone having a panic attack?”

We have also discussed what a panic attack is and what one can do to help someone who is having a panic attack.

Is hugging good for panic attacks?

Generally speaking, you should avoid hiding someone if they are having a panic attack- especially when the person is someone you do not share a close relationship with. 

When someone is having a panic attack, they might want space while other people might want to hold someone’s hands or to be held in general. However, all of this depends on the person, the situation, and the relationship between you and the person having the attack. 

The best thing you can do if you are debating if you should give them a hug is to ask them what you can do to help them. 

Does hugging someone calm them down?

Yes, hugging can help someone experience a feeling of calmness and relaxation because of the oxytocin that is released when people bond socially- this includes hugging.

Should you hug someone with anxiety?

If someone is feeling anxious, you can give them a hug if they consent to it. Hugs can help an individual feel loved and cared for and thus reduce feelings of loneliness and stress. The best thing you can do for someone who is anxious is to ask them what you can do for them.  

References

Felman. A. What to know about anxiety. Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 16th February 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454#what-is-anxiety

Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. NIMH. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2022. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms

Panic attack. BetterHealth. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2022. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/panic-attack

Panic Disorder. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4451-panic-disorder

Raypole.C. How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack. Healthline. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-someone-having-a-panic-attack#learn-the-signs

Bell. A. How to help someone who is having a panic attack. Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-to-help-someone-who-is-having-a-panic-attack#breathing-techniques

Pezzulo.M. What NOT to do When Someone is Having a Panic Attack. Patheos. Retired on 16th Feb 2022. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/steelmagnificat/2018/11/what-not-to-do-when-someone-is-having-a-panic-attack/

Deering. S. 8 Grounding Techniques for When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed. Talkspace. Retrieved on 16th February 2022.

Caporuscio.J. Grounding techniques: Step-by-step guide and methods. Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 16th February 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/grounding-techniques

Please give us feedback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.