First aid for a panic / anxiety attack
A panic attack (sometimes called anxiety attack) is an episode of intense fear and anxiety often accompanied by physical symptoms. Most episodes last between 5 – 30 minutes although they can occur for longer periods.
During a panic attack, the body goes into “fight or flight” mode which can cause distressing symptoms including:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
This is not an exhaustive list of panic attack signs and symptoms as these will vary from individual to individual. The symptoms often gradually resolve as the panic subsides.
Panic attacks may have certain triggers. For example, patients who have a phobia (a strong fear of something) may experience panic attacks when exposed to their phobia.
First aid treatment for a panic attack
1. Remove any triggers of the panic attack (or remove the patient from the trigger!)
2. Provide lots of reassurance and remain calm yourself
3. Focus on controlling the patient’s breathing – encourage them to breath in slowly through their nose, hold their breath, then breath out through their mouth. Try getting them to copy your slow breathing pattern.
Recurrent panic attacks may be the sign of panic disorder which requires specialist assessment and treatment by a doctor.
Important: a panic attack can sometimes look very similar to an asthma attack, and the two can occur together. For this reason a paper bag is not recommended for re-breathing, in addition if you have any concerns about the patient’s breathing then seek emergency medical help