How to help a loved one get through a panic attack

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – After conducting a community health needs assessment, researchers at Bon Secours St. Francis found that 40 percent of people in Greenville County reported experiencing anxiety.

Lauren Dowling says she’s had three panic attacks during times of stress and the first one came unexpectedly while playing water polo.

“For me, my heart starts pounding a lot,” she said. “My fingers tingle and everything… I feel like I’m going to faint.”

Psychologist Dr. Carson Felkel says those symptoms are typical for someone experience a panic attack. He says often if someone has had three or more panic attacks, they may have panic disorder, which is categorized by having sudden and repeated panic attacks of fear that last for several minutes or longer, even when there is no real danger.

“About 10-12 percent of people experience panic attacks,” Dr. Felkel said. “With increases of anxiety and depression occurring in our community, those are often occurring with panic disorder.”

According to the National Institute of Health, panic disorder sometimes runs in families.

“It’s more common if you also struggle with generalized anxiety or depression,” he added. “Even some people have personality traits that make them more anxious, and in those people, panic disorder could occur more frequently as well.”

Dr. Felkel says if your loved one is experiencing a panic attack and you’re trying to help, call 911 to rule out other dangers. “I don’t think it’s going to lead you into heart failure, but if you’re poorly controlled already, then sure it could be a tipping point,” he said.

If you are with someone who is experiencing a panic attack, he recommends avoiding certain phrases such as “Just stop it,” “It’s all in your head” or “Don’t worry.”

Instead, he says to communicate that you’ll stick with them through it, to stay calm, and take long, slow, deep breaths. “Reassure them that it’s going to pass,” he says.

For treatment, Dr. Felkel recommends getting enough sleep and seeing a counselor to guide you through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Click here for information about psychotherapy options or click here to be connected with a psychologist at Bon Secours St. Francis.

To submit a health question for our Ask the Expert series, click here.

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