What to Say to Someone Having a Panic Attack Over Text? (A guide)

In this brief guide, we will discuss what to say to someone having a panic attack over text.

What to Say to Someone Having a Panic Attack Over Text?

When someone is having a panic attack and you have to say something over text, you may say things like these:

  • “You can get through this.”
  • “Tell me what you need now.”
  • “Concentrate on your breathing. Stay in the present.”
  • “Keep reading what I’m sending you, focus on this”
  • “You are fine, you will be fine”
  • “Smell the things around you, look at the colors you have around you”
  • “Focus on the sounds you are hearing”
  • “You won’t feel this way forever just remember that, it will pass”
  • “It’s not the place that is bothering you; it’s the thought.”
  • “What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous.”
  • “I am proud of you. Good job.”

When someone is having a panic attack saying things to them over text can feel like you are not helping enough or that you could be doing more and you may even feel helpless, but sometimes, during a panic attack, even something as basic as text can ground someone.

You may not necessarily know what to say to someone having a panic attack over text, but the fact that you are there and trying to help may also mean a lot, and be more important than you providing constructive advice or telling them what to do and what not to do, so just be there if you don’t know what to say.

It is a proven fact that being grounded and feeling connected to someone when you are having a panic attack can be helpful in some cases, so if someone has reached out to you while having a panic attack, you can help a lot with just being there on the text.

What not to do when someone is having a panic attack.

While there is a lot you can do when someone is having a panic attack, there is a lot you should not do.

Here is a brief list of what to do when someone is having a panic attack:

  • You are fine you are just overreacting: This is a no brainer, as it may feel like you are denying their symptoms.
  • You are in control, try to control your symptoms: A person experiencing a panic attack feels like they are losing control, so telling them they are in control can make them feel accused.
  • You can do this just try harder: This can put undue pressure on the person and make them feel like they are not doing what they should be or experiencing the panic attack on purpose somehow.
  • You can be fine if you just breathe, try these exercises or this method: This can also put too much pressure on the person, if you need to teach them breathing exercises you can do so when they are feeling a little better, not while they are having a panic attack.
  • You can do this if you try hard enough: Again, this can make the person feel like they are being accused of wanting to stay in a state of panic.
  • What do you need from me?: The person having a panic attack has no idea what they need or what they should do, as their body is in a state of shock and stress, so asking them what they need is just more pressure they don’t need. Instead, help them with some grounding techniques, they help.

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are officially known in the International Classification of Diseases as Episodic Paroxysmal Anxiety, and the core features of this disorder are described by the ICD-10 in the following manner:

  • The symptoms are not restricted to any one circumstance and are therefore unpredictable.
  • There is a presence of fear of further attacks that follows the attack.
  • The attack almost always results in a hurried exit from a situation.
  • The person may sometimes start avoiding that situation because they are afraid of having a panic attack in that situation again.
  • The symptoms of the attack itself may vary a bit from person to person but are usually quite similar.

The guidelines also specify that there are dominant symptoms that vary rarely, and a panic attack will have a sudden onset of:

  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Choking sensations
  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of unreality (depersonalization or derealization)
  • A secondary fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of going mad

The symptoms of a panic attack can last from a few seconds to several minutes and the frequency may vary from person to person as well as on how advanced the problem is.

The diagnostic guidelines for panic disorder are:

“For a definite diagnosis, several severe attacks of autonomic anxiety should have occurred within a period of about 1 month:

  • In circumstances where there is no objective danger;
  • Without being confined to known or predictable situations; and
  • With comparative freedom from anxiety symptoms between attacks (although anticipatory anxiety is common).”

How to ground someone having a Panic Attack?

To ground someone having a panic attack you may try any of the following techniques:

Putting hands in water

Focusing on the water’s temperature and feeling it on one’s fingertips, palms, and the backs of your hands can take the person’s mind away from focusing on the imminent threat they may be feeling and divert it to the comforting sensations.

One may also ask the person who is having a panic attack to alternate between hot or cold water if they can.

Breathe 

Ask the person having a panic attack, as gently and slowly as you can, to slowly inhale, then exhale, or just simply say “in” and “out” with each breath you take and ask them to do it with you.

Hold some ice

Holding ice or coming in contact with something cold is one of the most common ways of dealing with having a panic attack, as it brings about changes in the autonomic arousal the body is experiencing, which is important when trying to deal with a panic attack.

Move your body

You may ask the person to do a few exercises or stretches, but not ones that bring about an increase in cardiovascular activity, rather something simpler like a yoga pose, especially one that involves putting one’s head down, like downward dog, so that blood flow to the brain is regulated. However, make sure you do it with them if you are there in person, or talk them through it on text or over the phone.

5-4-3-2-1 method

In the 5-4-3-2-1 method, you ask the person to focus their 5 senses on things they can notice around them. Ask them to start by listing five things they can hear in their surroundings, four things they can see, three things they can touch right where they are, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste, and for the last part if they don’t have anything right where they are, ask them to taste their finger, chances are they will be sweaty and be able to taste saltiness, but it’ll do the job.

Touch something

You may ask the person to touch something soft if they have it around or try to rub something comfortable in their hands.

Put the head between the knees

You may ask the person to sit on the bed, with their legs off one side, and lower their head to be between their knees, just lightly, not tightly held or anything. Alternatively, if they are sitting on the ground, they may pull up their knees slightly and then lean forward to lower their head between their knees.

How to help someone having a panic attack over the phone?

To help someone having a panic attack over the phone can be difficult, but here are some things to try:

  • Try grounding techniques
  • Talk to them in a gentle, soothing voice
  • Breathe deeply and audibly so they can hear and breathe with you
  • Use a soft tone, almost the type used in ASMR
  • Try to remind them of a calming time
  • Ask them to imagine a comfortable situation that you know they like
  • Describe a time they had fun with you
  • Keep talking about things that may interest them but not excite them
  • Don’t ask questions, take the lead in the conversation
  • Don’t try to distract them, just be there and try to ground them by engaging their senses
  • Don’t be irritated if they don’t get better the minute you start trying

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we discussed what to say to someone having a panic attack over text. Please reach out to us with any questions, comments, or suggestions regarding this topic or seek professional help if you feel that you or someone you know is suffering from a serious mental health issue.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): What to say to someone having a panic attack over text

What do you do when someone is having an anxiety attack over text?

Here is what you can do when someone is having an anxiety attack over the text:

Try to remind the person who is having a panic attack that they do not have to stay where they are and they may find a comforting place if they like
Provide assurance that they don’t have to be afraid and that you are there
Remind them that this is temporary and that it will pass
Encourage them to breathe and breathe with them
Try to have an engaging conversation but don’t ask questions or coax them to talk
Stay with them

What should you not say to someone who is having a panic attack?

Here are some things you should not say to someone who is having a panic attack:

Avoid saying “Calm Down”.
Don’t Disregard what they are feeling by saying “it’s nothing you are okay”.
Don’t Shame what is happening to them.
Don’t Minimize their distress in any way.

What do you say to someone when they’re having a panic attack?

Here are examples of what you might say when someone is having a panic attack:

“You will be okay, I am here with you.”
“Try to breathe with me”
“Try to focus on my voice”

Should you hug someone having a panic attack?

You should not hug someone having a panic attack as they may be over-sensitized and too much touch can feel like a serious threat when they are already feeling extreme fear or apprehension. 

Unless the person tells you expressly that it is okay, don’t touch or hug them during a panic attack.

Citations

https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw53602

https://medium.com/@gtinari/how-to-handle-someone-elses-anxiety-or-panic-attacks-51ee63f5c23b

https://au.reachout.com/articles/how-to-help-a-friend-with-panic-or-anxiety

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-someone-having-a-panic-attack#keep-them-grounded

Divya is currently a Clinical Psychology Trainee in a Master of Philosophy program and holds a Master’s in clinical psychology. She has a special interest in Personality studies and disorders, having researched the subject before, and Neuropsychology; with an additional interest being Mood disorders. She likes to write about Psychiatric issues, having worked in multiple specialty setups during her time as a clinical psychology student, and in her free time she likes to cook and read.

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