Supporting Colleagues During Panic Attacks

panic attack reassurance

APT are Staffordshire’s first aid training specialists, offering courses designed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both your colleagues’ physical and mental health. Our first aid courses provide people with the tools they need to support their colleagues through the most difficult of health crises. 

One common crisis that mental health first aiders frequently come across is panic attacks. In this article, we’ll show you how to support a colleague during a panic attack through non-judgemental listening and clear communication. Our goal will be to ensure that you can support your colleagues during an attack. 

Scroll below for some tips on supporting colleagues through a panic attack. 

Everything You Need To Know About Panic Attacks

Before you can deal with a panic attack, it’s important to understand what a panic attack is. 

A panic attack is a type of fear response – similar to the flight, fight, or freeze responses – which can occur when a person is under a tremendous amount of physical or psychological stress. They are not, by themselves, indicative of any larger mental health issues or mental illness beyond stress and the initial attack. However, panic attacks can be disorienting, and they are unpleasant to deal with – even for someone who is used to them. 

The person experiencing the panic attack may display any or all of the following symptoms: 

  • Chest pain 
  • Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed 
  • Hot flash – as well as sweating, trembling or shaking
  • A pounding or racing heartbeat 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shaky legs
  • Feelings of dissociation

Furthermore, the person experiencing the panic attack may feel very afraid that they’re losing control, going too faint, having a heart attack, or are going to die. As such, a friendly voice and support can make all the difference.

What You Can Do To Help Your Colleague

Now that you understand the symptoms of a panic attack you can help your colleagues overcome them. We have five tips for helping a colleague through a panic attack. These are: 

Take Control of the Situation

As a mental health first responder, it’s important that you take responsibility for the situation immediately. This ensures that your colleague recovers quickly. At the same time, handling the panic attack delicately will also help to maintain your colleague’s privacy and dignity. 

To take control, take your colleague somewhere quiet – somewhere they feel comfortable. A private office is ideal; however. If your place of work doesn’t have one of those, you can always use an empty portacabin or your colleagues car. The important thing is that your colleague is comfortable. 

Be Supportive Towards Your Colleagues

During this stage, make sure you’re continually talking to your colleague. Encourage them by offering positive reassurance and ask them to describe the way they’re feeling. Make sure you listen to what your colleague is saying and make a mental note of it. Remember to offer positive reassurance. 

Furthermore, if you believe they’d be comfortable with it, you can ask your colleague what they believe triggered the panic attack. Working out what caused the panic attack in the first place is the first step to ensuring that it never happens again. 

Remember, it’s important that you seem in control of the situation but not controlling. Your goal should be your colleague’s comfort. 

Stay With Them

No doubt the most important thing you can do for your colleague is to stay with them when they’re experiencing a panic attack. Continuous positive reassurance will help them to come out of the panic attack quicker and ensure that they don’t feel alone. You want to make sure that they feel validated throughout the experience, as this way your colleagues will feel more supported. 

Keep Your Colleague Focussed

Next, you want to make sure that while you’re comforting your colleague, you keep their minds on a repetitive, physical task. For example, you could have your colleague concentrate on their breathing while counting to 100. Alternatively, you could have them complete a simple and repetitive task, such as touching their nose with alternating hands and fingers. This will help them keep their minds off the thing that has caused the panic attack. 

Keep It Real 

Our final piece of advice is to ensure that your colleagues are grounded in reality throughout the panic attack. Make sure your colleague is aware that it’s not the situation itself which is causing this negative reaction, but rather their reaction to it. Validate their feelings, but encourage them to analyse the situation logically. 

By approaching the panic attack in this manner, you’re encouraging them to move away from the feelings which started the panic attack. By doing that, your colleague will come out of the panic attack sooner. 

Mental Health First Aid Qualification From APT 

As well as emergency first aid at work qualifications, APT is also proud to offer a range of Mental Health First Aid qualifications and training opportunities. Our day courses are designed to help you achieve your goals and become a qualified mental health first aider. 

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA England)
2 days
£300.00 + VAT per person
Book your course now

Mental Health First Aid Champions Course (MHFA England)
1 day
£200.00 + VAT per person
Book your course now

Contact APT today for mental health and wellbeing first aid training.

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Kelly Raboutot

Kelly Raboutot