Panic attacks are characterised by trembling, irregular or fast heartbeat, nausea and/or difficulty breathing. They occur when an individual experiences high levels of fear and anxiety, triggered by a perceived threat. For many people, the workplace can be a stressful environment, putting them at risk of having a panic attack. These can be very troubling for both an onlooker and the individual having an attack, so what should you do when you think someone is having a panic attack at work?
1. If someone is having an attack, it may be unclear exactly what is going on. For example, their trouble breathing may be caused by an asthma attack. If you are unsure, then call an ambulance.
2. If you are sure that the individual is experiencing a panic attack, take them to a quiet, private place if possible.
3. Help to calm the person down. Use calm and simple language to encourage them to join you in doing relaxed breathing. You should breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and then breathe out for 3 seconds. Continue this until their breathing seems more controlled and their body language and posture is more relaxed.
4. Once they are calmer, encourage them to talk if they are comfortable to do so. Be a non-judgmental, patient and confidential listener.
5. If the individual does not know what has happened to them, explain that they have experienced a panic attack and it is not life-threatening. It will stop soon and they will fully recover.
6. Reassure them that someone will stay with them and they are under no pressure to try to recover quickly.
Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. Having people on-hand who know how to properly and effectively support someone is therefore vital. People who can help in these situations are called Mental Health First Aiders who function like a first aider for physical health, instead helping those who need stress/mental health assistance.